After five months of waiting, Treasury official John D. Hawke Jr. starts work today as comptroller of the currency.
Mr. Hawke, who received a recess appointment Monday from President Clinton, was scheduled to be sworn in late Tuesday by Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin at a private ceremony. The new comptroller planned to move into his new office this morning.
Though he declined to be interviewed about his plans, industry experts predicted Mr. Hawke will press ahead quickly with plans to broaden bank powers.
"I think you will see a speedup in action with a permanent comptroller," said Karen Shaw Petrou, president of the ISD/Shaw Inc. consulting firm here.
Joe Belew, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, said that Mr. Hawke's advocacy of full financial powers for bank operating subsidiaries might embolden more banks to file applications.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which employs 2,800 and regulates 2,600 national banks, has lacked a permanent head for eight months, since former comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig's term expired.
Mr. Hawke, Treasury under secretary of domestic finance, was nominated in July, but the Senate adjourned without confirming him.
Appointing Mr. Hawke during the congressional recess buys a year for the Clinton administration to renominate him for a full five-year term. If that fails, a second recess appointment for another year is permitted.
Reception on Capitol Hill to the President's maneuver was generally positive.
"While the recess appointment route represents an imperfect process, it should be clear that Jerry Hawke is eminently qualified for the position," House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach said.
A spokesman for Sen. Phil Gramm, the incoming Senate Banking Committee chairman, said Sen. Gramm has no objection to the recess appointment. The Texas Republican plans to hold a nomination hearing for Mr. Hawke soon after Congress convenes in January, his spokesman said.
Mr. Hawke spent much of the last two years pressing Congress to update the nation's financial laws. He supports common ownership of banks, securities firms, and insurance companies, and would allow financial companies to invest a portion of their assets in nonfinancial businesses.
The legislation passed the House this year by a single vote, but bogged down in the Senate mainly because of a disagreement between the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board.
The Treasury insisted that banks should be able to offer new products and services from direct subsidiaries, while the Fed favored restricting new activities to holding company units.
Mr. Hawke will have to tread carefully or risk losing the votes he needs for Senate confirmation.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland and some fellow Democrats blocked Mr. Hawke's nomination this fall. Sarbanes met with Treasury staffers this week to discuss concerns that the poor and elderly were not being adequately protected from high fees under a program to electronically deliver federal benefits payments through banks.
In response, the Treasury might tighten restrictions on partnerships between banks and third parties who might charge high fees, such as check cashers.
Sen. Sarbanes was satisfied enough to support a recess appointment, sources said, but said Monday that he would continue to raise concerns about the electronic benefits program and Mr. Hawke's commitment to the Community Reinvestment Act.