WASHINGTON -- In her first tussle with supporters of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Capitol Hill, Aida Alvarez has emerged slightly bloodied.

By unanimous vote last week, the Senate passed an amendment by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., and Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., that slashed the regulator's office staffing request from 60 to 45.

At the same time, it gave the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight the $10.7 million budget for 1994 that it had requested, and encouraged it to use consultants as needed rather than permanent staff.

Intimidation Seen

Ms. Alvarez, the regulator, lobbied hard in recent months for 60 staffers -- double last year's estimate of what she would need. She said she needed the staff, not consultants, to be an independent regulator of Fannie and Freddie.

The Senate Appropriations Committee went along with both her budget and staffing requests. But when the senators offered their amendment, no votes were cast against it.

Watchers of Fannie and Freddie worry that this encounter will intimidate Ms. Alvarez as she embarks on her politically and technically challenging task. One Hill staff member said the event showed that Ms. Alvarez's constituency was "nebulous" and that it was difficult for her to drum up support.

Sends a 'Message'

Ms. Alvarez reports to Congress and needs the Hill's backing to do her job.

"It does send a message: We don't quite trust you. You're not quite on a par" with other regulators, said Ken McLean, a thrift lobbyist.

Ms. Alvarez was not available for comment.

For their part, the two companies stoutly deny any role in the D'Amato-Bond amendment. But Hill sources said repeatedly that they believed Freddie Mac was behind the move to cap Ms. Alvarez's staff.

Both companies wrote to Sen. D'Amato supporting her office.

Fannie's chairman, James Johnson, wrote that Fannie Mae did not oppose Ms. Alvarez's staffing levels.

The letter from Freddie's chairman. Leland Brendsel, studiously avoided any mention of staffing levels. Instead, he voiced support for Ms. Alvarez's $10.7 million budget.

Another Chance

In a written statement last week, Freddie Mac's chief lobbyist, Mitchell Delk, said:

"I do not have sufficient information on the director's plans to estimate OFHEO's specific staffing needs, whether it is 30, 45, 60, or any other number of professionals. However ... we unequivocally support sufficient resources for OFHEO to accomplish its statutory mission."

Ms. Alvarez may have vet another chance to salvage her staffing. The final level will be set after the House and Senate appropriations committees confer on the bill.

The House approved a budget for the office of $5.7 million earlier this year.

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