Shocking the Clinton administration, Ricki Helfer said she is resigning as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. effective June 1.
Ms. Helfer said she has achieved her goals and, after mulling resignation for two months, decided she is ready to give up her grinding schedule.
"I've accomplished everything I set out to do," she said in an interview. "I've simply decided after two and a half years of nonstop activity, I'd like some time with my husband and family."
Treasury Under Secretary John D. Hawke Jr. said he was "very surprised" by Ms. Helfer's resignation. "I'm terribly sorry to see her leave," he said. "I think she's done a terrific job."
Ms. Helfer said she will send President Clinton a letter of resignation today. She said she would leave before June 1 if a successor were confirmed by the Senate.
The confirmation process is rarely that swift, so it is likely that FDIC Vice Chairman Andrew C. "Skip" Hove will take another turn as acting chairman. Mr. Hove, a former Nebraska banker, stepped in when FDIC Chairman William Taylor died in August 1992 and ran the agency though October 1994, when Ms. Helfer was sworn in.
Mr. Hawke declined to discuss possible replacements for Ms. Helfer, and she offered up no names.
Others speculated about Ellen S. Seidman, President Clinton's special assistant for economic policy. Her nomination as director of the Office of Thrift Supervision is pending Senate confirmation. Ms. Seidman is no relation to former FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman. In addition to the FDIC post, the Clinton administration must fill two seats on the Federal Reserve Board.
Ms. Helfer, 52, said she does not know what she will do next. Prior to the FDIC, she was a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a Washington law firm. From 1985-92, she was a Fed lawyer specializing in international banking.
Ms. Helfer counts last year's capitalization of the Savings Association Insurance Fund among her major accomplishments. The hard-driving Ms. Helfer pressed the banking industry to support legislation fixing the fund's problems, and after months of blunt talk, the industry signed on and Congress enacted the rescue last September.
During Ms. Helfer's tenure, the bank fund was also rebuilt and insurance premiums were eliminated for most members.
With so few banks failing, Ms. Helfer shifted the FDIC's focus from cleaning up problems to preventing them. She created a division of insurance to assess future risks in the banking system. She also revamped the FDIC's management system, instituting strategic and budget-based planning. "We started linking plans to budget and not funding anything that's not in the plan," she said.
During her tenure, the agency's budget and staffing were both cut by a third. With banks posting record profits, she said plans are in place to shed another 2,500 employees, for a total of 6,600, by 2000.
Former FDIC Chairman William M. Isaac said employee buyouts and layoffs likely took their toll on Ms. Helfer.
"It has got to be wearing and I'm sure she's exhausted," the chairman and chief executive officer of the Secura Group said. "When you're getting rid of thousands of people, that's not fun."
"Without question, the hardest part of the job has been downsizing," Ms. Helfer said.
But asked if sagging employee morale figured into her decision to leave, she said: "That is absolutely not the reason. Right now, I feel the broadest sense of acceptance of myself and what I'm trying to do.
"To tell you the truth, I'd rather leave on a high."