WASHINGTON - The waning months of the Clinton presidency have produced two paths to filling key posts at the Federal Reserve Board and other regulatory agencies: the Alan Greenspan express and the road to nowhere.
Senate Republicans and the White House have been content to let two seats on the seven-member board remain empty - one since July and the other since mid-1998. Similar vacancies or expiring terms challenge the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Federal Housing Finance Board, and the National Credit Union Administration.
"It is a bigger number than normal," said Karen Shaw Petrou, president of the ISD/Shaw Inc. consulting firm here.
Observers and Capitol Hill veterans noted that such leadership vacuums are not uncommon when different political parties control the Senate and the White House, especially with a presidential vote months away.
"The Senate will tend to sit on it with the hope their party will take the White House, so it's more jobs for their guy to fill," Ms. Petrou said.
Few see any reason this year will be any different.
"Will we deviate much from the norm? I don't think so," said a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
In contrast, Mr. Greenspan is getting fast-track treatment. Though six months remain in his third term as Fed chairman, he is considered so vital to the national economic psyche that President Clinton - a lame-duck Democrat - reappointed him on Tuesday and Senate Banking Chairman Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican, said he would move swiftly to confirm. A hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 26.
Elsewhere, interparty warring has had little or nothing to do with extraordinary sluggishness on nominations and approvals. It took the administration five and a half years to nominate Franz S. Liechter to one of two vacant seats on the five-seat Finance Board, for example. And though 14 months have elapsed since Joseph H. Neely resigned from the FDIC, President Clinton has yet to nominate a successor.
Meanwhile, Senate Banking Republicans are sitting on six White House nominations or renominations, including Mr. Liechter's and those of Carol J. Parry and Roger W. Ferguson Jr., both nominees to the Fed board The plethora of vacancies can carry a cost. A special source of concern is the FDIC, where the four current members are evenly split between two inside directors and two Treasury Department officials. The situation invites a 2-2 deadlock, observers say, particularly in cases where the FDIC might want to exercise its authority, as the nation's deposit insurer, to perform "backup" examinations of a troubled thrift or national bank.
Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said, "President Clinton should at long last forward the nomination of Richard Houseworth," the Arizona banking superintendent whom Sen. Lott recommended to the White House last February.
In this case, Mr. Houseworth says his absence from the Greenspan Express has more to do with the Clinton administration than Congress.
In an interview Wednesday, he said the White House had not contacted him recently and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which conducts background checks, has never been in touch.
The White House pointed the finger back at Sen. Gramm and his committee.
"There's been some rumbling that the banking committee's just shutting down approval of all nominations," a White House official said. "We're going to press them to move forward."