Konrad Alt took a risk trading Capitol Hill for the Comptroller's office. It was his boss, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Donald W. Riegle, who denied Robert L. Clarke a second term as comptroller.
"I was jumpy that there might be some bad blood," Mr. Alt said. But the agency's staffers "have treated me very well. None of my apprehension turned out to be justified."
While OCC staffers may be forgiving, their kind treatment also may have something to do with the considerable power Mr. Alt wields at the agency.
"It's fair to say that there is not a big decision in which I am not involved," Mr. Alt concedes.
In addition to functioning as Comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig's principal political adviser, Mr. Alt, 34, is responsible for the agency's economic analysis as well as its congressional and public affairs offices.
Mr. Alt's nearly five years with the Senate Banking Committee have been invaluable for Mr. Ludwig, who was a private-sector lawyer with no political experience before taking over the agency.
Mr. Alt's introduction to the banking and thrift crises came while he was an associate with Dewey Ballantine. The Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. was one of the law firm's clients and Mr. Alt was among those deployed in an effort to recoup losses.
"I was parachuted into western Oklahoma," Mr. Alt recalled. "It certainly influenced my view of what went wrong in the thrift industry."
Many of the failures, he concluded, were caused by fraud. While working in Texas and Oklahoma, it became clear that legislation would be needed to sort out the mess, and Mr. Alt decided he wanted to be part of that process.
He got an interview with Stephen B. Harris, the Senate Banking's staff director, and was told that another staffer, Richard S. Carnell, thought highly of him.
Mr. Alt didn't recall the staffer, but found out after he landed the job that Mr. Carnell remembered him from an earlier recruiting trip to Harvard, where Mr. Alt was in law school.
That nearly forgotten meeting was the beginning of a partnership that persists today. Mr. Carnell is an assistant Treasury secretary, and the two are in close contact on banking policy.
Mr. Alt joined the committee in 1989, as the thrift-bailout law was being crafted, and ended up writing a chunk of the bill's legislative report.
That fall, Mr. Alt and Mr. Carneil began studying the deposit insurance system.
Cornerstone of the Law
Their efforts led to the "prompt corrective action" standards that became a cornerstone of the 1991 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Improvement Act.
The provisions require regulators to take increasingly tough steps against institutions with falling capital.
The law as a whole, and prompt corrective action in particular, was seen as a slap at the agencies, but Mr. Alt is making no apologies.
"I think in its most essential provisions FDICIA was a pretty good piece of legislation," he said.
Though soft-spoken and serious in public, Mr. Alt has an un expected dry sense of humor.
Asked where his two sons go during the day while he and his wife work, Mr. Alt said they are in day care at the General Accounting Office, the arm of Congress that checks up on the regulatory agencies.
"It's part of my congressional relations effort," he said joking: "You guys have my kids, what more do you want out of me?"
Born in Austin, Tex., Mr. Alt's family moved around, but he grew up mainly in the San Francisco area. He attended Reed College in Portland, Ore., where he majored in political science and was student body president.
In addition to his law degree form Harvard, Mr. Alt holds a master's from the Kennedy School of Government.
Mr. Alt's wife, Maureen Kennedy, is a deputy assistant secretary at the Housing and Urban Development Department. The two met in Alaska.
"She was running a public interest group up there, and I was looking for a summer job and she wouldn't hire me," Mr. Alt said.
Mr. Alt said he is satisfied with his agency's record but is determined to be vigilant for the next big issue.
Asked if derivatives will cause the next banking crisis, Mr. Alt said he thinks the business is being well regulated. But he adds: "I worry all the time whether we are being sufficiently careful, sufficiently self-critical, and sufficiently attentive to what's going on out there. "I did pay close attention during the late '80s, and I don't want this Comptroller or this administration to make mistakes like that again."
Konrad S. Alt
Chief of staff
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
250 E St. SW
Washington, D.C. 20219