Robert Swan is getting his revenge.
Since being ousted by the White House from his seat on the National Credit Union Administration board, Mr. Swan has won the attention of Congress and the industry with serious allegations about the way NCUA Chairman Norman E. D'Amours runs the agency.
Mr. Swan is suing the administration, charging he should not have been discharged until his successor was confirmed by the Senate. His lawsuit is about more than trying to get his job back, however. Mr. Swan said he wants to put his accusations of a "totally out of hand" NCUA chairman on the record.
"It is important that people in the financial arena are aware that D'Amours is trying to either circumvent or totally eliminate the board's mandated responsibility for setting policy for credit unions," Mr. Swan said in an interview this week. "These things were never intended to be one person's decision - they should be board decisions."
A number of Mr. Swan's allegations were supported by NCUA Vice Chairman Shirlee P. Bowne.
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. D'Amours flatly denied any wrongdoing, declining to elaborate. "I'm not going to get involved in petty name- calling or nit-picking," he said.
Mr. Swan said the NCUA under Mr. D'Amours is a tightly controlled agency where debate is stifled, information is controlled, and the staff answers only to the chairman.
His allegations have compounded problems caused by last year's failure of Capital Corporate Federal Credit Union, which cost 251 credit unions $23 million.
Some industry executives are even suggesting that Mr. D'Amours step down.
"This is sickening," said John Annaloro, senior vice president of public and government relations at the California Credit Union League. "It's time for a change at NCUA - it appears the President fired the wrong guy."
Mr. Swan's complaints have attracted the attention of Congress as well.
Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., held a hearing last week to delve into Mr. Swan's ouster. The administration used a "recess appointment" to install banking lawyer Yolanda T. Wheat in place of Mr. Swan, whose six-year term ended in August.
The focus of the hearing quickly shifted to accusations of mismanagement at the NCUA. Rep. Bachus said he would call Mr. D'Amours and the agency's executive director, Karl Hoyle, before his House Banking investigations subcommittee to look into Mr. Swan's charges.
Mr. Swan's claims could be dismissed as the rantings of a man mistreated. But a number of sources - including Ms. Bowne - confirmed the picture Mr. Swan has painted of the NCUA under Mr. D'Amours.
In an interview this week, Ms. Bowne said getting information from senior staff became extremely difficult after Mr. D'Amours took charge of the agency in November 1993.
In the past, she said, there was a "give and take" - staff felt comfortable enough to "disagree openly" with each other and board members. These days staff members are "guarded" about talking to board members and there is a "lack of openness," Ms. Bowne said. She added she often resorts to getting information from sources outside the agency.
"Do I have any absolute knowledge that staff is being told to withhold information? I can't say that," said Ms. Bowne, who was appointed to the NCUA board in October 1991, "but there is a great deal of difference in the way information flows now as compared to my first two years here."
Ms. Bowne also recounted a ruling made by the general counsel's office that certain documents were not to be given to board members unless Mr. Hoyle had granted permission.
When she learned of the ruling, Ms. Bowne said she went to Mr. D'Amours to complain.
"I'm a board member; I'm entitled to have anything," Ms. Bowne said she told Mr. D'Amours. "I hold any senior staff person who provides information pertinent to an issue and fails to advise me accountable; it doesn't have to be approved by Hoyle or you."
Charles Zuver, executive vice president of the Credit Union National Association, said he fears that the claims of mismanagement at the NCUA board will cause reactions on Capitol Hill similar to those prompted by the failure of Cap Corp in January 1995.
In response to NCUA's liquidation of Cap Corp, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato introduced a bill to tighten the agency's oversight of state-chartered institutions.
"This will make members of Congress and the administration start saying, 'Maybe these people need some real adult supervision,' " Mr. Zuver said. "It doesn't bode well for the agency, or for credit unions."