After months of delay, six nominees to financial regulatory posts appear to be on a fast track to Senate confirmation.
At a Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats alike endorsed the nominees, who included Ellen S. Seidman to head the Office of Thrift Supervision, Edward M. Gramlich and Roger W. Ferguson to be Federal Reserve Board governors, and Dennis Dollar to be a member of the National Credit Union Administration board.
"I look forward to moving these nominations to the floor very speedily," said committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato. Approval by Senate Banking, which may vote next week, would send the nominations to the full Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who appeared at the hearing to support fellow Mississippian Mr. Dollar, also pledged to support the other nominees.
Fair-lending issues dominated the testimony of Ms. Seidman, a White House aide for economic policy. She said that as OTS director she would encourage thrifts to offer financial services "on a fair and equitable basis in all communities the institutions serve." Ms. Seidman, a former senior vice president at the Federal National Mortgage Association, also said she would ensure that thrifts use technology appropriately.
For example, Ms. Seidman said credit scoring should be used "to free up underwriters to analyze applications that don't fit the scoring systems precisely, rather than to restrict access to credit."
Ms. Seidman also said thrifts that extend credit over the Internet will face "full Community Reinvestment Act obligations," regardless of where the loans are made. However, she noted that regulators face an "extraordinarily tough question" as to exactly how the 1977 law will apply to these institutions.
When asked by Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., whether the thrift charter should be abolished, Ms. Seidman said it is important to preserve a breed of institution that focuses on residential lending. Pressed by the lawmaker for a clearer answer, Ms. Seidman said it was up to Congress to decide. (Legislation pending in the House would kill the thrift charter).
Sen. Faircloth voiced concern about the number of thrift applications being filed by insurers and other nonbanking firms. Ms. Seidman countered that the OTS has the means to ensure a "safe and sound industry no matter who owns the institution."
Neither of the Fed nominees was questioned by lawmakers about banking regulation. But in his testimony, Mr. Ferguson said the central bank must continue to pare regulations without endangering safety and soundness.
"We cannot and should not attempt to substitute the judgments of regulators for the judgments of individual bank management," said Mr. Ferguson, a consultant with McKinsey & Co.
The two other nominees at Tuesday's hearing were Laura S. Unger and Paul R. Carey, nominated to seats on the Securities and Exchange Commission. Sen. D'Amato had delayed confirmation of financial regulators for months until Ms. Unger, one of his aides, was nominated.