In the drive to regulate financial institutions, the Federal Reserve Board tops the other three bank and thrift agencies - literally.

For official business travel to destinations around the nation's capital, the Federal Reserve Board owns a dozen vehicles and employs 14 drivers. Six of the chauffeurs are dedicated to drive four Mercury Grand Marquis.

The salaries of the 14 Fed drivers total $487,000 this year - on average, about $35,000 each.

The Fed's fleet and fleet budget outstrip those of the other agencies combined.

In second place is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which has seven vehicles and pays its six drivers $214,445 - an average salary of $35,700.

Three vehicles are available for Office of the Comptroller of the Currency executives. The OCC's three drivers will make $87,300 this year, or $29,100 on average.

The Office of Thrift Supervision staffers can choose between a single Grand Marquis or a van. The OTS' one driver earns close to $26,000 a year.

A Fed spokesman was quick to contend that the central bank needs more cars and drivers because that agency does more than regulate banks.

"It's not really fair to compare us to the other agencies," the spokesman said. "We do more than the other bank and thrift regulators - we have a lot of people and resources on monetary policy and the economy."

But Fed employees do get a number of perks other regulators don't. During rush hour, Fed employees are shuttled to and from the nearest subway station, which is seven blocks from the Fed offices just off the Mall stretching between the Capitol with the Lincoln Memorial.

Additionally, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan is the only regulator chauffeured between work and home daily. One of the Mercurys pulls up to the Watergate Hotel to pick him up for the five-minute commute down Virginia Ave.

Acting OTS Director Jonathan Fiechter, on the other hand, travels to work in his 1984 Toyota Camry, which has 150,000 miles on it. On the job, Mr. Fiechter usually gets around in a two-year-old Grand Marquis that doubles as a delivery vehicle. Other OTS staffers can use the car as long as Mr. Fiechter hasn't reserved it.

FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer has an assigned driver, as have Vice Chairman Andrew C. Hove and Director Joseph Neely.

The FDIC officials drive themselves to work (Ms. Helfer drives an older- model BMW). The seven vehicles available for official FDIC business include a Grand Marquis, two Buick Park Avenues, and a Jeep Cherokee.

Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig drives to work in either his Lexus or his van. The OCC's 1996 Chrysler LHS, 1995 Buick LeSabre, and 1996 Ford Winstar van are available to Mr. Ludwig as well as to the agency's chief counsel and its dozen or so senior deputy and deputy comptrollers. Other agency employees may use a car if one is available.

All agency heads travel about town in higher style than does House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach.

Generally, Congress supplies only the top two or three leaders of the House and Senate with chauffeured vehicles. So, when traveling from Capitol Hill to speaking engagements around town, the Iowa Republican often takes a taxi.

Either that or Rep. Leach is driven by committee spokesman David Runkel in Mr. Runkel's 10-year-old Volvo. The chairman also gets around in an aging Cadillac that he inherited from his father, Mr. Runkel said.

Rep. Leach's Senate counterpart, Alfonse M. D'Amato, travels in better style. He owns a Lincoln Town Car that he drives himself, a Senate Banking spokesman said.

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