WASHINGTON - A government plan to survey credit unions about their efforts to aid poor members is a waste of time and should be scrapped, a trade group told the federal Office of Management and Budget last week.

The National Credit Union Administration approved the 11-question, $56,000 survey in November on a 2-to-1 vote. The agency needs OMB approval before sending it to chief executive officers of all 6,700 federally chartered nonprofits early next year.

In letters to OMB and the regulator, the National Association of Federal Credit Unions insisted the voluntary survey would be useless for policymaking purposes because any results would be anecdotal.

"We feel that it is inappropriate, biased, a waste of both NCUA and credit union staff time and resources, and should be withdrawn before credit unions' confidence in the federal charter, as well as in their federal regulator, is eroded further," association president Kenneth L. Robinson asserted in a recent letter to the NCUA board.

Supporters said the survey would help determine whether the industry needs a prod from regulators. But Mr. Robinson said the survey "offers the opportunity for great mischief." He also criticized the NCUA for failing to define the term "lower income" in the questionnaire, for exempting state-chartered credit unions, and for telling the OMB that the survey would take just 30 minutes to complete.

"That's like the IRS telling me I can do my income taxes in an hour and a half, and I spend days on it," he said in an interview.

The Credit Union National Association, NAFCU's chief rival, responded differently. Its board members voted Dec. 1 to have their own credit unions fill out the survey as an example for the industry.

Mr. Robinson may have an ally in NCUA chairman Norman E. D'Amours, who opposed the survey because it is not mandatory.

"We're at opposite ends of the canoe, but paddling in the same direction," Mr. Robinson said.

None of the NCUA board members was available to be interviewed Monday. The deadline for submitting comments to the OMB is Jan. 25.

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