WASHINGTON -- Like the family of a hostage, Ricki Tigert's law partners tied a yellow ribbon to her office chair.
Selected to head the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. nearly six months ago, Ms. Tiger's nomination is stalled until Congress can hold hearings on Whitewater - the controversy over President Clinton's involvement with a failed Arkanasa thrift and development company.
While personally frustrating for Ms. Tigert, the Senate's refusal to confirm her is having a much larger impact on the FDIC and its 14,220 employees.
"The FDIC is out of the loop on every major policy question," a former banking regulator said. "Without a leader the FDIC staff has no clout." (See story on page 2.)
Andrew C. cSkip" Hove Jr., the seventh acting chairman in the agency's 61-year history has served longer than the six other acting chairmen combined With 21 months, Mr. Hove has been in charge longer than five of the 15 men who have been full-fledged FDIC chairmen.
"Big Pot of Money'
Without a strong leader, the FDIC has no one to promote its positions or defend its interests. That will affect the agency's future as well as the banking industry's bottom line. Banks this year will pay $5.6 billion into the FDIC's Bank Insurance Fund, which holds about $13.1 billion.
"It's a big pot of money the industry Has paid in, and it [the FDIC] needs to have people in power," one industry observer moaned.
Mr. Hove isd viewed as a nice guy in a tight spot.
"I don't think he is going to make major policy decisions while his nomination is hanging in the balance," said Neil Miner, executive vice president of the Iowa Bankers Association.
Mr. Hove was renominated to a second term as vice chairman right after Ms. Tigert was named last November. The FDIC's five-number board is operating with just three members: Mr. Hove, Office of Thrift Supervision acting 0director Jonathan Fietcher, and Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig.
On the Agenda
Issues demanding attention at the FDIC include:
* Merging the bank and thrift insurance funds.
* Lowering the fees bank pay for deposit iNsurance.
* Adjusting the asessment base.
* Folding the Resolution Trust Corp. into the FDIC while trying to shrink the agency and cut Ets budget.
* Examining federally chartered institutions as a backup regulatory microscope, such as mutual funds, derivatives, and annunities.
When the House Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings on mutual funds in early March, the FDIC was the only banking agency excluded from the witness table.
"The party that pays the bill wasn't even invited," an FDIC staffer said in disgust.
Absent from CRA Reform
Just twso years ago, the FDIC chairman would have been the star witness with lawmakers demanding hids opinion on the safety of mutual funds.
The FDIC has been missing as well from the bedate over Community Reinvestment Act reform.
most damming, however, has been the FDIC's absence from the fight to consolidate the banking agencies. The Clinton administration lat year called for a merger of the supervisory functions of all the agencies. This would leave the FDIC as insurer, stripping it of much of itS current authority.
Infuriating its staff, the agency's leaders did nothing to defeat the plan.
"People are cutting up our turf aNd slicing up our bodies," another staffer complained.
John Stone, the FDIC's acting executive DIRector of supervision, said at a recent conference that the FDIC brings an independent view to examinations. Banks have failed shortly after recieving high rating from their primary supervisors, he noted.
"This is our concern, as insurer, if we are taken that far out of the picture," Mr. Stone said. "I just feel a lot is going to be lost."
"The FDIC also has shied away from innovations. For example, staffers said the agency would propose a new rule by the end of 1993 that woDld allows banks to be chartered without deposit insurance. But that plan has never been introduced.
Not only has the FDIC been withoDt a full-time chairman since August 1992, but many staffers worry that they will be laid off or transferred. laid off or transferred.
With so few bank failures, there is less work to do. To boot, the FDIC must absorb hundreds of employees who are returning from the Resolution Trust Corp.
Decision-making at the FDIC is at a standstill as staffers wonder what Ms.
Tigert will want.
Margie Muller, banking commissioner of Maryland, empathized.
"We're talking about people whose careers are being affected because any decision they make today" can be second-guessed when Ms. Tigert finally takes office, Ms. Mueller said. "I think that has inhibited a lot of people at FDIC."
Fearing the same fate as Stanley Tate, Ms. Tigert has avoided contact with the agency beyond an occasional lunch to commiserate with Mr. Hove. A nominee to head the RTC, Mr. Tate had to withdraw after he attended a number of internal meetings before he was confirmed by the Senate.
Ms. Tigert doesn't have much to do at her law firm either.
When she was nominated, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher agreed that Ms. Tigert would not represent any inswured depository institutions. That means she can't do the work the firm hired her to do.
How long this limbo will last is uncertain.
Although the House and Senate have agreed to hold Whitewater hearings, lawmakers cannot agree on when or what form they will take.
Ms., Tigert, supporters say, plans to wait it out.