Stanley E. Morris fancies his anti-laundering agency the model 21st century crime fighter, but the toys in his inner sanctum hark back to the past.
A Colt pistol, a U.S. marshal's badge, a Winchester rifle, and other artifacts are displayed in cases in his office in this Washington suburb. A picture of Gen. George S. Patton hangs on the wall behind his desk.
Despite being well armed, Mr. Morris has been under heavy fire from critics in the banking industry and Congress, who say his Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has been slow to the draw in modernizing its byzantine regulations.
This month a former Federal Reserve Board governor called current money- laundering regulations ineffective. Ironically, On the same day Mr. Morris announced his retirement, after nearly four years as director of Fincen.
"It is easy to stay in these jobs too long," the 55-year-old Mr. Morris says, explaining that he decided to take advantage of an early retirement package that would not be available again until mid-1999.
"You start to lose your edge."
Fincen, with 181 employees and a $23 million annual budget, is a tiny agency with a big mission. Founded in 1990, the Treasury Department unit collects and analyzes financial data to help law enforcement nab financial criminals.
The agency was given policymaking powers under the Bank Secrecy Act-the nation's primary law for fighting money laundering-when Mr. Morris arrived in 1994. And, despite some criticism, he and his team have hopped the globe to raise international awareness of money laundering.
"He has significantly furthered the cause," says Richard A. Small, assistant director of banking supervision and regulation for the Fed. "Fincen has brought money laundering from a secondary issue to the front line."
Supporters credit Mr. Morris with issuing a new rule this year to reduce the nearly 13 million currency transaction reports that financial institutions have to file annually to supply the government with investigative data.
Government officials hope the rule-which eliminates currency reports on public companies, other banks, and government agencies-will slash filings by two million annually.
Mr. Morris also oversaw the introduction of a new system for reporting suspicious activity at banks that Fincen says will be less burdensome on the industry and better pinpoint criminals.
Yet he will leave several controversies behind when he exits at the end of February.
Though Mr. Morris prides himself on building a strong rapport with bankers, they vehemently objected to a Fincen proposal in September intended to further curtail currency transaction reporting.
The agency has backed off, extending the public comment period until next month so bankers may suggest an alternative to an onerous record- keeping provision.
Meanwhile, Fincen is the target of three General Accounting Office reports.
The watchdog agency is investigating why Fincen has taken so long to meet a congressional mandate to reduce the paperwork burden of currency transaction reports and create rules to regulate money transmitters and other nonbanks.
The GAO is also examining how useful Fincen's data collection has been in helping the Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service, and other agencies investigate and prosecute money launderers. Finally, the GAO is scrutinizing Fincen's role in promoting international cooperation on money laundering issues.
Besides these hassles, observers say, Mr. Morris may have decided to leave because he did not get along with his Treasury bosses: under secretary for enforcement Raymond W. Kelly and assistant secretary James E. Johnson.
"We do not always keep them informed as we should," Mr. Morris acknowledges. "Our sense was they did not fully understand what we were trying to do."
Mr. Kelly responds that he gets along well with Mr. Morris and compliments him for raising Fincen's profile here and abroad.
Run-ins with other officials are not uncommon for Mr. Morris, who can be both charming and irritating.
"He is a taskmaster," says Pamela J. Johnson, Mr. Morris' top policy adviser who will depart the agency next month to join the Fed. But "he is the most visionary guy I have ever met."
"I am not the easiest person to deal with," Mr. Morris agrees. "Deep down I am a lot softer than I tend to be out front."
Misreading Mr. Morris is easy.
He may be best known as director from 1983 to 1989 of the U.S. Marshals Service. He says he sought to revive morale at a traditional agency struggling to adjust to a new era.
Yet despite that job and an office full of vintage weapons, he is not a cop but a government operative at heart. The most revealing wall in his office may be his collection of photos and letters marking every administration he has served since Nixon's.
Mr. Morris, raised in Northern California by his mother after his father was killed while serving under Patton during World War II, says he was inspired to public service.
For the past 30 years he has held management jobs in the Office of Management and Budget, the Justice Department, and other agencies. He worked on deregulatory efforts in the Ford administration.
A stint at Treasury led him to Fincen, the antithesis of the brawny image of the marshals. The agency is populated by computer nerds.
Despite the qualms of his law enforcement clients, Mr. Morris says he sought a "genuine partnership" with bankers because Fincen depends largely on the cooperation of the industry.
"The cops by themselves can't find an answer," he says.
Despite their complaints about specific rules, bankers are thankful Mr. Morris reached out to them, says John J. Byrne, the American Bankers Association's money-laundering expert. "He gave the word 'partnership' meaning," Mr. Byrne says. "I remember the days when you couldn't get the time of day from people at Treasury."
Fincen's reliance on high-tech computer wizardry and interagency cooperation make it a model for the future, supporters say.
"What Fincen has done-and Stan Morris should be given credit for it-is integrate its financial regulatory responsibilities with its financial intelligence-gathering capabilities," says Ronald K. Noble, Mr. Morris' former boss at Treasury.
The next Fincen director faces numerous challenges.
Management will have to be restocked. Besides Mr. Morris and Ms. Johnson, several top agency officials have left in recent months.
Some observers question whether the agency has too many functions and should have some of its jobs absorbed by other agencies.
"The resources are stretched," Mr. Small says. "Maybe for the next Fincen director there should be a decision on where the focus should be."
Both the Fed's Mr. Small and the ABA's Mr. Byrne are considered possible successors to Mr. Morris. Other rumored candidates are Connie J. Fenchel, director of operations for the U.S. Customs Service's investigations office, and Michael C. Stenger, special agent in charge of financial crimes for the Secret Service.
Mr. Kelly gave no hints about whom he will select except to say he wants an experienced manager and someone ready to handle electronic money threats to the financial system.
Meanwhile, Mr. Morris says he does not have a new job lined up but would consider joining a company, a think tank, or an international nongovernmental organization. Some peg Mr. Morris as a prize catch for a large accounting firm's bank compliance practice.