WASHINGTON More than four months after Freddie Mac's chief executive officer quit amid talk of frustration with government meddling, his successor, Charles Haldeman Jr., said federal involvement would not be a problem for him.
Haldeman said Tuesday that he understands the close oversight role the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which placed Freddie and Fannie Mae in conservatorship last year, must play as the government seeks to restore the two companies to health.
"I totally get the function of the regulator and the need to have the approval and the involvement of the regulator in much of what Freddie does," Haldeman, who was appointed by Freddie's board on Tuesday, told American Banker. "That is fully appropriate at this point in time, and I go into this job knowing that I'm prepared to make sure the relationship works with the FHFA."
The conservatorship proved too restraining for David Moffett, Freddie's previous CEO, who sources have said felt micromanaged. Under the conservatorship, the FHFA had to approve the appointment of Haldeman, who was chairman of Putnam Investment Management until June 30, and previously served as president and CEO of its parent company, Putnam Investments. Haldeman has also served as chairman and CEO of Delaware Investments and president and chief operating officer of United Asset Management Corp.
Haldeman will start his job at Freddie next month after the government-sponsored enterprise reports second-quarter results. He will take the reins from John A. Koskinen, the GSE's chairman, who has served as interim CEO since Moffett left in March.
Haldeman said his top priorities are rebuilding the management team, helping the Obama administration's foreclosure prevention plan, and discussing options with policymakers about the future of the GSEs.
He noted that Freddie has been without a permanent CEO, chief operating officer and chief financial officer for several months. "It's an unusual company that has three spots open like that," Haldeman said. "I think an important part of the job is to build a team there."
While in conservatorship, the enterprise is playing a key role in the Obama administration's plan to increase loan modifications. The administration has said the two GSEs will help 4 million to 5 million underwater borrowers refinance loans that are owned or guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie.
But so far, that plan appears to have worked more slowly than anticipated, helping slightly more than 130,000 borrowers to date.
Haldeman said he wants to "make sure that Freddie does everything it can to support the president's program."
"It's a critically important program," he said. "That's agenda item number one."
Without delving into specifics, Haldeman said the GSE was committed to doing whatever it takes to help more borrowers. "You should know our intention is to do everything we can to make that program a success," he said.
Haldeman is also shortly going to face a debate over the GSEs' future.
The Obama administration has said it plans to outline its recommendations for the GSEs in its next budget, which will be released early next year. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has suggested that the two companies be treated like public utilities, while some Republicans have said they should be privatized or shut down. Democrats, many of whom traditionally have favored fully nationalizing the GSEs, have largely kept their options open.
Haldeman said that as an outsider, he comes to the debate with an open mind, and he wants to weigh all the alternatives.
"There are a lot of possibilities on the table," he said. "I've already had many conversations with people, but I truly come in with a completely clean slate on the issue. I think that's a good thing. It isn't at all clear to me what the right outcome is. I want to be involved in a debate where we identify the advantages and disadvantages of each possibility."
Haldeman made it clear, however, that any role in the debate will be "nonpolitical." The GSEs have been banned from lobbying since the government seized them last September. Still, he said he hopes that Freddie can have a seat at the table as different ideas are weighed.
"I've not been part of the industry so it's fairly easy for me to be unbiased," he said. "I would hope we can be part of the conversation."