WASHINGTON - Joseph H. Neely, Mississippi's banking commissioner since 1992, will be nominated to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board, the White House announced late Wednesday.

If confirmed, as expected, Mr. Neely will bring the FDIC's five-member board to full strength for the first time since August 1992.

"It's a great day for the FDIC," said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America. "It moves the FDIC to full independent status."

But Mr. Neely is not likely to make his way through the Senate's confirmation process before the FDIC board votes on its most pressing issue: slashing bank premiums by 83%.

"I don't think Neely can get there in time," said Edward L. Yingling, executive director of government relations at the American Bankers Association. However, Mr. Yingling added, "The reduction is going through."

Before taking the helm of Mississippi's Department of Banking and Consumer Finance, Mr. Neely, 43, spent 15 years as a banker, rising to senior vice president at Merchants National Bank, a $180 million-asset bank in Vicksburg, Miss.

Mr. Neely's name surfaced last December and gained momentum as Senate majority whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., publicly backed him for the post.

Mac Deaver, executive director of the Mississippi Bankers Association, credited Mr. Neely with streamlining the state's banking laws and modernizing its banking department.

"He's been an outstanding commissioner," Mr. Deaver said. "He's independent, aggressive, and outspoken."

The FDIC's vote on the premium cut has been held up for two months as the agency works with the administration to craft a rescue for the faltering Savings Association Insurance Fund.

The FDIC has been under pressure to hold off cutting bank premiums to an average of 4.5 cents while thrifts continue to pay the current 23-cent rate.

A solution for the thrift fund is likely to emerge soon, and then the FDIC board is expected to move forward and take a final vote on the bank rate cut.

Questions about the FDIC's independence have cropped up periodically.

After former chairman William Taylor died in August 1992 and board member C.C. Hope died in March 1993, the FDIC was left with just three members. Only acting Chairman Andrew C. "Skip" Hove was appointed directly by the President; the board's two other members report to the Treasury secretary. By law the FDIC board includes the comptroller of the currency and the director of the Office of Thrift Supervision.

Thus, Mr. Neely's arrival arguably gives FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer three votes - enough to beat the twosome from Treasury should the need arise.

Usually, the comptroller and the OTS director agree with the chairman on the agency's direction. However, when Mr. Hove stood alone against the Treasury votes in 1993, he was forced to compromise to move the FDIC forward.

In fact, Comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig and acting OTS director Jonathan Fiechter succeeded in choking off the FDIC's backup authority in 1993.

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