A congressional investigative panel issued a scathing indictment Tuesday of Norman E. D'Amours' management of the National Credit Union Administration.
Concluding an eight-month probe, the House Banking Committee's general oversight committee said NCUA Chairman D'Amours and his executive director, Karl Hoyle, stifled debate, tightly controlled information, and ran the agency in a manner that "created morale problems" and "poisoned the atmosphere."
"You have engaged in activities unbecoming of the chairman of a federal regulatory agency," Rep. Spencer Bachus, chairman of the House Banking Committee's general oversight subcommittee, wrote in a letter to Mr. D'Amours.
"I consider certain findings of the subcommittee staff to be very troubling and in some cases shocking," Rep. Bachus, an Alabama Republican, added. "They undermine your ability to effectively lead the agency."
Mr. D'Amours dismissed the report as "totally inaccurate" and "a highly partisan political memo from (Rep. Bachus') own staff" that did not include Democratic members' input.
While the report did not accuse Mr. D'Amours of anything illegal, the barrage of criticism could not have come at a worse time for the embattled official or the institutions he oversees.
The NCUA is in the midst of a legal battle over credit union membership rules; its handling of that issue prompted a federal judge to label it a "rogue federal agency."
"Anything that casts a negative reflection on the agency's leadership right now certainly doesn't help us in other issues we're dealing with in the courts," said Kenneth L. Robinson, president of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.
The report validated allegations a former NCUA director, Robert Swan, made last May during a hearing of Rep. Bachus' subcommittee.
Mr. D'Amours on Tuesday called those accusations "unsubstantiated," but the subcommittee said its findings were based on interviews with NCUA management and reams of subpoenaed documents.
As Mr. Swan charged, the investigators found that Mr. D'Amours effectively excluded other directors from setting policy. For example, the report said the chairman often did not allow other directors to add items to the board's agenda.
In addition, Mr. D'Amours ordered NCUA staff to brief him on board matters before other directors were informed, the report said. Mr. D'Amours ordered information withheld from other directors and raised "concerns about the accuracy of the subsequent briefings of board members," the investigators said.
The report also found that board members were allowed to see certain documents only if they asked permission and supplied a reason for the request. This "fueled animosity among board members," the report said.
Mr. D'Amours also told examiners to lean on credit unions to attend an NCUA conference held last August, according to the report. In a few instances, the report said, examiners directly asked credit union officials for contributions to finance the conference.
Finally, the congressional investigators found that Mr. D'Amours and Mr. Hoyle ordered staff members in five of the six regional offices to "monitor and secretly tape the public statements of board member Swan."
This amounted to an abuse of authority, Rep. Bachus wrote. "The activity exacerbated the air of mistrust that had already manifested itself in board activities," the lawmaker said.
A parallel investigation by the General Accounting Office is arriving at similar conclusions, a congressional staff member said. A draft of the GAO report is likely to reach NCUA officials next week, he said.
Subcommittee staff members are considering drafting legislation that would require the NCUA chairman to consult the agency's two other board members before making policy decisions.