WASHINGTON - A senior thrift regulator says his agency will implement major changes in response to complaints about the regulatory burden.

The mission, said Timothy R. Burniston, is to finally introduce uniformity to the process.

Mr. Burniston, deputy assistant director for specialized programs with the Office of Thrift Supervision, said regulators have lost their credibility because bankers believe they value documentation over performance.

"The overwhelming complaint we hear is with the issue of regulatory burden in general," he said.

Change in the Winds

Mr. Burniston said he expects regulators to change their ways shortly, prompted by President Clinton's directive to reform CRA by year's end.

Mr. Burniston has been a regulator all his working life, having joined the Federal Reserve Board in 1977, right out of college.

He said he has been compliance junkie ever since

Although he considered becoming a lawyer, Mr. Burniston entered the world of banking compliance because he saw it as a new area that not too many people knew much about yet.

Mr. Burniston stayed with the Fed for 11 years before moving to the OTS' predecessor agency in 1988, and then to the OTS. He is now responsible for overseeing four areas: compliance, trust and electronic data processing examinations, and consumer affairs.

Twice as Many Rules

He said it has been amazing to watch compliance regulations literally double in size during his career as a regulator.

In the late '70s and early '80s, Mr. Burniston said, the most problematic law was Truth-in-Lending. But he said the industry has changed quite a bit since then. Now, he said, there are more gray areas.

"You can always find a violation where a |T' wasn't crossed somewhere," he said.

Lenders wrestle with the vagueness of the Community Reinvestment Act every day, Mr. Burniston said. One of the biggest problems with that, he said, is that a lot of other laws need attention as well.

Overhauling the System

But now, Mr. Burniston's department is gearing up for a different kind of change - that of the regulatory system itself In fact, one of the taller stacks of paper in his office consists of transcripts from hearings and comments on the subject. He is optimistic about the challenge.

"We will have a system that is much better," he said.

Mr. Burniston said the regulatory process as it is requires too much judgment, using statutes that are extremely vague. A better system would introduce more objectivity, he said.

It's unlikely that any laws will be eliminated, Mr. Burniston said. What is certain, he added, is that there will be other regulatory abuses Congress will address in the future.

Shakeout Expected

The big changes, said Mr. Burniston, are yet to come.

When those changes are completed, Mr. Burniston said, there will be a shakeout period in which all of his staff will need to be retrained. The department now places strong emphasis on the interaction between staff members and their examination teams. The department keeps examiners up to date on policies. Mr. Burniston said he has day-to-day involvement with members of the team who call to ask him questions that have arisen out in the field.

He said the best way for examiners to learn their job is for them to apply the facts to the regulations. The OTS compliance program is only four years old, so Mr. Burniston still feels he is charting new ground.

One of the OTS' newest programs that Mr. Burniston has been involved with is designed to promote affordable housing and fair lending.

The program was announced a few weeks ago by OTS Acting Director Jonathan Fiechter. It is expected to help low- and moderate-income and minority credit applicants by strengthening the relationship between the regulator, the thrift industry, and community groups.

"You don't want to lose a real-world perspective," Mr. Burniston said.

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