WASHINGTON - The Office of Thrift Supervision's groundbreaking rules on interest-rate risk turn two years old next week.

The thrift regulator, however, still isn't ready to enforce them.

On Wednesday, the agency issued a bulletin clearing away a few final obstacles to implementing its requirement that thrifts back their interest- rate risk with extra capital.

But the OTS also announced that it won't actually put the rule in force until thrifts have had time to get used to the procedures announced in Wednesday's bulletin - a delay that thrift regulators say also will allow them to watch where the three banking agencies are headed with their efforts to regulate interest-rate risk.

The thrift agency has been a pioneer in regulating rate risk, collecting data from thrifts since 1989 and providing them information on their exposure to sharp shifts in interest rates since 1991. On Aug. 31, 1993, it adopted regulations requiring thrifts to factor interest-rate risk into their calculations of risk-based capital.

In the bulletin issued Wednesday, the agency took the final step needed before it can enforce those rules - outlining the appeals process for institutions shunted into a lower regulatory capital category because of their interest-rate risk.

At present, about 20 thrifts would find themselves in this predicament, said Anthony G. Cornyn, director of the thrift regulator's risk management division.

Kenneth Ryder, the OTS' executive director of research and analysis, said the agency wants to give those institutions a chance to try out the appeals process before the rules go into effect.

"We've got to go with at least one quarter's worth of data to see if it works," he said. That delay, he added, "gives us time to evaluate" the interest-rate risk policy statement published Aug. 2 by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and Federal Reserve Board.

The bank regulators' plan, which is open for public comment until Oct. 2, would require some banks to report interest-rate data and allow them to use internal models to evaluate their exposure to changes in interest rates.

Some in the thrift industry worry that the banking agencies may settle on less-strict risk rules than the ones they are subject to.

"If I have the same risk as a commercial bank, I shouldn't be hit harder for interest-rate risk," said Brian Smith, director of policy development for America's Community Bankers, a thrift trade group.

The thrift agency does plan to let thrifts use in-house models to calculate risk - although they will still be required to fill out standardized forms - and the bulletin issued Wednesday describes how they can get regulatory approval for their models.

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