With the thrift fund fix behind them, thrifts should turn their attention to the role of the Federal Home Loan banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, says James Montgomery, outgoing chairman of America's Community Bankers.

"There are serious questions of national policy involving Fannie and Freddie that this country must address thoughtfully and seriously," Mr. Montgomery said Monday in a speech at the trade group's convention here.

The questions, he said, involve the agencies' "proper role in the marketplace, the level of risk they pose to the Treasury, and more broadly, (their role) in carrying out public policy mandates."

Mr. Montgomery, chairman of Great Western Bank, is also a director of Freddie Mac, formally the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. In an interview, he put aside some of his customary reluctance to delve into the debate about Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the Federal National Mortgage Association.

"There is no question that Fannie and Freddie have done a great job delivering low-cost mortgage money to many, many people," he said. "As a director and stockholder of Freddie Mac, I'm happy from a financial standpoint."

But he said he often tells Freddie Mac Chairman Leland Brendsel and Freddie Mac President David Glenn that "with the advantages of the federal imprimatur come responsibilities.

"I am a voice continually on that board to make sure we do the best job we can, meeting the underserved of the community," Mr. Montgomery said.

He disagreed with Mr. Brendsel on whether there should be a cap on the size of the loans the mortgage agencies may buy.

That will come up next month, when Fannie and Freddie are expected to increase their 1997 loan limits, possibly by more than $20,000.

It boils down to how big the government's role should be in the housing market, Mr. Montgomery said. With the studies last summer on the pros and cons of ending Fannie's and Freddie's federal ties well as the recent legislation approving Sally Mae's privatization, scrutiny of Fannie and Freddie will only mount, he predicted.

On the Federal Home Loan Bank System, Mr. Montgomery advocates a pragmatic approach.

He said thrifts should focus on changing to a percentage of income the flat tax now used to repay Resolution Funding Corp. bonds. Moreover, he wants Congress to remove impediments to the merger of some of the 12 Home Loan banks.

Once the system is on a businesslike footing, Mr. Montgomery said, the future role of the Federal Home Loan banks can be thoroughly debated.

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