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Call Carolyn Z. McFarlane a lobbyist, and she'll wince.

As the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's director for congressional relations, Ms. McFarlane's job is to let lawmakers know what her agency thinks of pending banking bills and report back to agency officials about happenings on Capitol Hill.

The soft-spoken 48-year-old calls herself an "information specialist."

"The term 'lobbyist' sounds so private sector," Ms. McFarlane says.

During this Congress, the 12-year OCC veteran spent most of her time informing lawmakers of the agency's objections to Rep. Jim Leach's financial modernization bill, which would have restricted the agency's authority to expand national bank insurance powers.

This battle was big enough to bring in Comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig and his chief of staff, Konrad Alt. But Ms. McFarlane says she fielded countless calls from lawmakers, bankers, and other agencies about the proposals of the House Banking Committee chairman - for whom she once worked. Opposition forced the Iowa Republican to pull the plug on Glass- Steagall repeal in June.

While it is illegal for agencies to spend money influencing Congress, for all intents and purposes, Ms. McFarlane and the people who do her job at the other agencies are lobbyists.

"Part of her job is to try to influence policy," says William Binzel, vice president of government relations for Mastercard International. "That makes you, like it or not, a lobbyist. Ninety-five percent of my job is providing information as opposed to lobbying."

While Ms. McFarlane was reserved and very cautious during an interview, she's hardly shy when it comes to getting her agency's message across, according to John L. von Seggern, her counterpart at the Office of Thrift Supervision.

"She's a straight shooter," says Mr. von Seggern. "She'll tell you if something will be problematic for the OCC from the get-go."

The Baltimore native's educational background indicates she didn't plan a career in banking. Ms. McFarlane received a bachelor's degree in 1970 from the College of William and Mary and a PhD from Cornell in 1976 - both in sociology. Her degrees landed her a job as an analyst at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While at HUD, she developed plans that allowed tenants to manage their own public housing projects. But Ms. McFarlane says she felt her career was becoming too narrow. She wanted to learn more about other financial issues, so she shopped around on Capitol Hill, where she landed a job with Rep. Leach's office.

Ironically, the man who has caused the biggest headaches for OCC this year played a major role in interesting Ms. McFarlane in banking.

For three years in the early 1980s, Ms. McFarlane was Rep. Leach's legislative assistant, working on banking, housing, and international monetary issues.

"I learned about banking working with Jim Leach," she says. "I found the pure financial institutions aspect of it interesting, which led me to the OCC."

Rep. Leach took on Mr. Ludwig in March, accusing him of ignoring laws in a "self-aggrandizing" effort to expand national banks' powers, but Ms. McFarlane insists her relationship with her former boss is not strained.

"Jim understands that people change jobs, and do what is needed in their new jobs," she says. "I am very fond of Jim, and have the utmost respect for him, but we're clearly just going to have to agree to disagree."

Legislative attempts to shackle the OCC reached a dramatic climax July 17, when House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon made a back- door attempt to pass legislation restricting the agency.

"That was a fun day," Ms. McFarlane says. She helped write Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin's strongly worded letter to lawmakers opposing the the New York Republican's measure. After a day of procedural back-and-forth on the House floor, the Solomon measure failed 312 to 107.

Needless to say, there is not much contact between Rep. Solomon's office and Ms. McFarlane. "They do not call here to ask our opinion," she says with a chuckle.

One person she does chew over the issues with regularly is her husband, Randy McFarlane, director of the Federal Housing Finance Board's office of congressional relations.

The two met in 1966 during a high school trip to France. They've been married 21 years.

"If I read something in the paper about commercial banks and I have a question about it, I have an easy place to get an answer," says Mr. McFarlane, who was director of government relations for the Resolution Trust Corp. from 1990 to 1993 and has nearly 10 years experience working for thrift trade groups.

But Ms. McFarlane says they "mostly talk about gossip, since we know the same people."

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