Ellen W. Lazar has a mission from the President.

Named director of the Treasury Department's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund in December, she heads one of the Clinton administration's most cherished initiatives-a government program that provides grants to banks and other financial institutions for community lending.

"We want to foster great participation by regulated banks and corporations," she said. "It's our job to help them connect with other partners in the community."

The fund, which matches private-sector investments in distressed and underserved neighborhoods, is soliciting new bids from traditional banks, specialized community development banks, venture capital funds, and other institutions.

The Treasury will award $80 million in 1998, and the administration has asked Congress to make $125 million available next year.

Ms. Lazar's job is to expand the program and bolster its reputation among lenders and lawmakers, who have complained that the grant process favors politically connected institutions. Irregularities in the agency's grant program led to the August resignation of Ms. Lazar's predecessor, Kirsten Moy.

"My career reflects a commitment to this work," Ms. Lazar said. "We have to provide capital to communities that haven't had access."

Ms. Lazar's appointment was hailed by bankers, many of whom met her when she served as executive director of the National Association of Affordable Lenders. "Ellen will help bring credibility to the program-among industry as well as Congress," said Carol Parry, Chase Manhattan's executive vice president for community development. "She's smart and knows how government works."

Bart Harvey, chief executive officer of the Enterprise Foundation and Ms. Lazar's former boss, said she is well prepared to lead the CDFI Fund. "She has a good antenna for dealing with the problems in organizations that need fixing and a wonderful facility for managing people."

Ms. Lazar began her career in 1980, spending three years as an attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development before stints at the National Coalition for Housing and the Enterprise Foundation, where she became administrative vice president and headed the foundation's $35 million Enterprise Loan Fund.

"We were lucky to get her," said Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin. "Ellen brings to the job vast experience and creativity. The key now is to get the program reauthorized and to expand its scope."

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