WASHINGTON - Enforcement activity dropped at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve Board but rose at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and was steady at the Office of Thrift Supervision during 12-month periods that ended this spring.

The number of formal actions taken by the FDIC plunged 31.8%, but formal enforcement actions spiked 32.1% at the OCC, the agencies said.

There were 218 actions against the 2,600 national banks supervised by the Comptroller's Office in the 12 months through May 31, an increase of 53.

Dan Stipano, director of enforcement and compliance at the OCC, cited a combination of factors.

"We've seen an erosion in credit-quality standards and instances of banks taking more risk without proper controls in place," he said. "We have also made changes in our exam procedures to include a greater risk focus and more transaction testing."

In contrast, formal enforcement actions by the FDIC fell 63, to 135, in the 12 months that ended April 30.

No one at the FDIC, which is responsible for monitoring the 5,793 state banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve System, would comment for this article.

Regulators categorize enforcement actions as formal or informal. Formal actions are legally binding and include consent orders, formal agreements, civil money penalties, and termination or removal orders. Informal ones, usually in written form, are warnings to correct a problem.

Informal orders issued by the FDIC dropped 39%, to 519, comprising 171 memos of understanding and 348 board resolutions.

At the Fed, formal actions against state member banks fell 38.6%, to 44, but the number of informal ones rose 84%, to 107, in the 12 months through May 31.The shift to more informal actions is a good sign, according to Richard Small, an assistant director in the Fed's supervision division. Because the type of action taken is based on a problem's seriousness, a higher number of informal actions indicates that, despite continuing problems in the banking system, their severity has lessened, he said. Fed enforcement efforts recently have focused on money laundering and compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act, he added.

The OTS took 53 formal actions - matching the previous 12 months' tally - against the 1,111 federally chartered thrifts in the period through April 30. It does not issue informal enforcement actions.

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