ORLANDO -- The nation's top thrift regulator blasted the industry for establishing a $100,000 fund that is expected to be used to fight the Department of Justice on fair-lending prosecutions.
"Here is the thrift industry now taking on the Clinton administration on fair-lending issues," said Jonathan Fiechter, acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision. "It is not constructive."
Mr. Fiechter described the SCBA initiative as an "extreme approach" and added: "I don't support that."
In a speech to the Savings and Community Bankers of America's annual convention, Mr. Fiechter also called for the Justice Department and thrift and bank regulators to coordinate the government's fair-lending policies.
"Development of fair-lending enforcement policy is both too important and too unsettled to be developed in isolation by a small group of well-intentioned government employees," Mr. Fiechter told an audience of several hundred thrift executives here.
"We in Washington need to spend more time defining exactly what the standards are and then sticking with those," he said. "We need to work together to eradicate discrimination from the marketplace and to foster an environment where difficult issues can be candidly aired and rationally addressed."
"Hallelujah," said David E.A. Carson, SCBA's incoming chairman. "We are very pleased that he is calling for that."
Mr. Fiechter addressed a smattering of other hot-button issues.
He said he shares SCBA's concerns about the potential for thrifts to pay far higher deposit insurance premiums next year than banks must pay.
"Speaking solely for myself, I believe it is necessary at a minimum to find an alternative means of paying the interest on the FICO [Financing Corp.] obligation," Mr. Fiechter said.
That could be accomplished by splitting the bonds' burden between the Bank Insurance Fund and the Savings Association Insurance Fund or by using taxpayer money left over when the Resolution Trust Corp. goes out of business, he said.
SCBA seeks a merger of the BIF and the SAIF to avoid a competitive disadvantage for the thrift industry.
The thrift regulator also said he favored consolidating the bank regulatory agencies in the long ran. However, he said that the Clinton administration would have to gauge the political climate in Congress before deciding whether to revive such a plan next year.
"What the administration will have to do is look at the climate on the Hill in January," Mr. Fiechter said.
Also criticizing the SCBA's $100,000 "emerging issues" fund was Chris Lewis, director of banking and housing policy at the Consumer Federation of America.
Creation of SCBA's war chest may hurt the industry's attempt to bring future thrift deposit insurance premiums in line with those banks pay, Mr. Lewis said.
"The thrift industry has articulated a dire need for relief that may involve substantial public monies," Mr. Lewis said. "The perception that the industry wants public money but doesn't want to abide by the law may put that agenda at great political risk."
SCBA president Paul A. Schosberg stressed Tuesday that the $100,000 fund might be.used to advocate SCBA's views on fair-lending or any other matter that affects the bulk of the industry and has a long-term impact.
"Our job is not to be warriors as much as it is to be educators," Mr. Schosberg said.
"You can quibble with the lack of communication between the federal agencies," Mr. Lewis said, "but Justice has clear responsibilities in the fair-lending area, and historically, those responsibilities have been lax."