Third of Four Articles
Alice Goodman planned on working with troubled felons or dysfunctional families. Instead, she's dealing with Congress.
The career she thought she was going to pursue and her current job as legislative affairs director at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. both require her to understand people and the pressures they work under.
"I don't take it personally if they (congressional staffers) are having a bad day," Ms. Goodman said. "My job is to make sure the corporation knows Congress' concerns about our actions and policies.
"But I also tell Congress if we have a problem promulgating a statute or we need a change (in the laws) to keep the insurance funds stabilized."
With perfectly coiffed blond hair, green eyes, and power suit, the 41-year-old Ms. Goodman projects an aura of calm and authority.
Although she was reluctant to grant an interview, the Washington native responded to questions easily and fully, jumping up at one point to show two framed pictures on her office wall. One shows her as a third grader in 1962, with her class at the Capitol. The second picture, taken in 1991, is eerily similar; Ms. Goodman and her staff are posed in the same spot.
She laughed at the suggestion that walking the halls of Congress must have been her destiny. It hadn't seemed that way when she was attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the 1970s.
Asked her major in college, she responded,"Do I have to tell you? Home economics." She quickly added that she studied family finances, not cooking and sewing.
In college Ms. Goodman answered a crisis hot line. She hoped to get a job counseling families or parolees. But she got a job with a trade association, dealing with financial issues. That led to a clerical job with the Republican staff of the House Banking Committee.
"We had a lean staff in the minority," Ms. Goodman recalled. She got the chance to progress by "filling the voids" in the staff structure, she said. She attended George Washington University at night, earning a graduate degree in public administration.
Ms. Goodman stayed on the Hill for nearly 10 years, working her way up to the rank of professional staff member on the consumer, general oversight, and financial institutions subcommittees.
"Alice was good at understanding the issues and communicating them to staff and members," said James Sivon, a Washington attorney who was the Banking Committee's minority staff director from 1980 until 1983. "She got along with everyone.".
Ms. Goodman joined the FDIC as a legislative adviser in 1987, just as Congress was dealing with the savings and loan crisis.
When Congress passed the Financial Institutions Reform Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989, Ms. Goodman performed with aplomb, said Beth Climo, Ms. Goodman's former boss at the FDIC.
"With questions coming at you a mile a minute, Alice was able to juggle all the issues at one time," she said. "She is great at that."
In 1989, Ms. Climo appointed Ms. Goodman deputy director. "I made her deputy because of her leadership," Ms. Climo said.
Ms. Goodman became acting director in 1991 when Ms. Climo left to become general counsel at the Federal Housing Finance Board. Ms. Goodman was named director in 1992.
A second legislative rescue for the thrift insurance fund has kept Ms. Goodman busy the last two years. She credits the agency's decision to hold a rare hearing on the issue in 1995 for alerting Congress to the problem. "There were a lot of new members then, and it helped inform legislators," she said.
Ms. Goodman is optimistic that rescue legislation for the insurance fund will be passed when Congress returns to Washington next week. But she's not making any predictions about what its form.
"My own personal belief is that there will be" a SAIF fix, "but I couldn't tell you what it will look like," she said.
Ms. Goodman is careful to delineate the boundaries of her job. Her office does not make policy; it speaks for the FDIC to Congress. "By funneling all the information through this office, we make sure they get the best information, and the information they want," she said.
Her experience on the Hill helps her know when congressional staff want the long or short version of what she has to tell them. Ms. Goodman said she shields her congressional contacts from FDIC lawyers "with 23-page descriptions of a one-line change in the law."
"Having walked in the shoes of a Hill staff person, I know what they face on a day-to-day basis," she said.
Her years of work in high-pressure jobs also have taught her the importance of a sense of perspective, she added. What does she do when things aren't going well? "I think about my 12-year-old daughter," she said.
Next: Carolyn Z. McFarlane at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.