Nicolas P. Retsinas, an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is on the Clinton administration's short list of candidates to head the Office of Thrift Supervision.

Mr. Retsinas would head the thrift agency on an interim basis while the administration continued its search for a permanent director. Also reportedly being considered for the job is Richard S. Carnell, Treasury assistant secretary for financial institutions.

While refusing to discuss possible nominees, Treasury Under Secretary John D. Hawke Jr. said a short-term replacement will be named before acting Office of Thrift Supervision Director Jonathan Fiechter leaves the agency.

Mr. Fiechter, who announced his resignation in June and has already delayed his exit for a month to give the administration more time to name a successor, is scheduled to start his new job with the World Bank on Monday.

Because Mr. Retsinas has gone through the Senate confirmation process, he may hold the thrift agency job for up to 180 days after the new Congress convenes in January. That would buy Treasury about nine more months to find a permanent candidate and get him or her confirmed by the Senate next year.

Mr. Retsinas, who is also HUD's representative on the Federal Housing Finance Board, declined to comment. A HUD spokeswoman said reports of the job offer were "rumors with no basis in fact." But several sources close to the selection process confirmed Treasury wants Mr. Retsinas for the job. Those sources also said that he is reluctant to take it because in addition to heading the agency, he also would continue in his HUD and Housing Finance jobs.

The former executive director of the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp., Mr. Retsinas was named to the HUD job in 1993 by President Clinton. He is highly regarded by agency officials who describe him as bright and capable.

He also has the respect of the thrift industry.

"Nick's a wonderful guy," said Paul Schosberg, president of America's Community Bankers. "I know of no detractors. He brings an enormous amount of energy and administrative strength to everything he does. And he's knowledgeable about the housing finance industry."

Mr. Carnell played a key role in negotiating the thrift deposit insurance fund rescue, enacted Monday. But the appointment of a Treasury official to head the agency might stir up questions about its independence from the administration and could trigger congressional criticism, sources said.

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