Leann G. Britton is a real estate agent's worst nightmare.

In the last year, the new senior deputy comptroller for supervision operations has been close to buying three homes only to have the government move her to another city.

"People ask me if I have found a place to live yet, and I say, 'Yeah, I found a place in Chicago, I found a place in Kansas City, but I haven't found a place in Washington yet,'" said the 20-year veteran of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Despite the fact that her housing situation here is far from settled - she's still living in a hotel - Ms. Britton has already established some goals for the 2,700 examiners she oversees at her new post.

Ms. Britton's top priority is ensuring the OCC's examiners stay up to date with the rapidly evolving national banks they supervise.

"As banks get larger, get more complex, and get into new products and services, the challenge will be to take this very experienced work force and figure out what new skills they need to supervise the new activities banks are getting into," said Ms. Britton, 43.

Ms. Britton said she envisions "examiner sabbaticals" that would put examiners in leading-edge institutions and have them work side by side with bankers for a few months to "learn the business."

"It would give us a quicker way to bring our examiners up to date with the knowledge and skills in these areas," Ms. Britton said. "It's a way for them to see firsthand what the risks and challenges are."

The agency, she said, will hire fewer examiners right out of college.

"In the past we've always 'grown' our examiners," she said. "But with the speed that banks are doing new things, I don't know if we're going to have the luxury of spending five to seven years grooming our examiners."

As director of the OCC's Minneapolis field office, Ms. Britton managed examiners from 1989 through 1995. She's also got an in-depth knowledge of the agency's structure, having worked since 1989 on an internal task force designed to adapt the OCC to a consolidating banking industry.

"She's really extraordinarily qualified because of the variety of positions she's held here," said Konrad Alt, the OCC's chief of staff. "She's unusually gifted in the management skills area, and has a good overall grasp of what the OCC is about."

Firsthand experience is a catch phrase for Ms. Britton. She hadn't even finished unpacking the boxes in her spacious Washington office last month before she hustled off to the OCC's western, southwestern, and midwestern district headquarters, where she met with supervisors to discuss how to streamline the examination process. She also has scheduled a long list of meetings with bankers around the country.

"I may be stationed here in Washington, but I think that I'll be getting back out there on the front lines a lot," she said.

Ms. Britton joined the agency in 1975 as a field examiner, supervising national banks in her home state of Minnesota, as well as Wisconsin and the Dakotas. She described this period of her career as her "best and worst times with the agency."

Best because she was in the trenches, "working in the banks where the supervision actually gets done." Worst because she was often handed a list of seven or eight banks to examine in remote, blizzard-swept North Dakota towns.

"Bankers would tell me, 'You better head for your hotel now to beat the whiteout, or you'll be sleeping at the bank,'" she said.

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