Clarke Vows Attack on Loan Bias

Says Controversial Mortgage Data Will Be Used

WASHINGTON -- Comptroller of the Currency Robert L. Clarke has vowed to crack down on national banks that discriminate in lending to minorities.

In a letter to senators last week, Mr. Clarke pledged to use data recently released under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act to target institutions with high loan-rejection rates for minorities. Specific files will be opened and investigated, he said.

But congressional staff members said Mr. Clarke was burnishing his image in preparation for today's scheduled vote on his confirmation by the Senate Banking Committee.

On the Defensive

Since President Bush nominated Mr. Clarke last November for a second five-year term, the comptroller has been challenged repeatedly to prove that his agency is as effective as the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

In letters to Sen. Alan J. Dixon, D-Ill., and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., who have been pressing for tougher enforcement of fair lending laws, Mr. Clarke said his agency since the 1960s "has taken the lead among federal financial regulatory agencies in encouraging banks to address the varied development and investment needs of their communities."

Mr. Clarke conceded - in light of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data showing loan applications from minorities are up to 2.4 times more likely to be rejected than those from whites - that his agency needs to police loan discrimination better.

Mr. Clarke was criticized during his confirmation hearing for the report on credit discrimination the Comptroller's office gave Congress in May 1990, as required under the thrift bailout law. His letters were accompanied by a longer report detailing actions by the agency and what it may do in the future to combat lending discrimination.

"The past [deficient] record is there, said Kim Shafer, an aide to Sen. Dixon. "I guess now the question is: Since his confirmation hearing, is there anything new?"

|To Set the Record Straight'

Stephen Cross, deputy comptroller for compliance, said in an interview Monday:

"There can be no doubt that this is an effort to set the record straight. The OCC has been tarred as the agency that has been more lax in its efforts in the past than the other agencies, and I don't think that is true."

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