WASHINGTON - A fault line is running through the National Credit Union Administration.
On one side stands NCUA Chairman Norman E. D'Amours and most of the agency staff. Across the chasm is director Robert Swan.
The fissures, created by politics and personalities, have become glaringly obvious.
Mr. Swan has taken to blasting agency policy while speaking at industry conferences. For example in March, before an audience in Virginia, he called the NCUA's seizure of Capital Corporate Federal Credit Union an "assassination."
Also, at the last NCUA board meeting Mr. D'Amours and Mr. Swan sniped at each other over a seemingly insignificant point: how long to accept comment on a proposed regulation.
In an interview, Mr. Swan insisted that he agrees with Mr. D'Amours more often than not. But on some issues - such as a rule he opposed that eliminates shared management between trade groups and corporate credit unions - Mr. Swan claims he has been cut out of the agency's decision- making process.
"We've been trying to get as much information as we can, but some of the information has been difficult to obtain," he said. "Maybe we've been out of the loop for longer than I know."
Mr. Swan, himself a former credit union executive, has sought a more conciliatory relationship with the industry than Mr. D'Amours. For example, while Mr. D'Amours has said interlocks between corporates and trade groups need to be split, Mr. Swan has said existing rules could deal with any potential problems.
Mr. Swan also has been publicly critical of:
*An exhaustive probe of Southwest Corporate Federal Credit Union.
*The agency's tough interpretation of Federal Accounting Standard 115.
*New performance rating standards.
It's difficult to gauge how the roughly 13,000 credit unions feel about Mr. Swan's actions. But many are glad to see division on the NCUA board.
"I think it's good to have somebody - especially if they really believe it - not walk in lockstep," said John Siefken, chief executive of Citizens Equity Federal Credit Union in Peoria, Ill. "I'd be more upset if all the votes were unanimous, especially on issues that are controversial. It's nice to feel there's a democratic process."
Mr. D'Amours declined to comment on Mr. Swan's actions beyond saying that disagreements over decisions already made should remain behind closed doors. He also said that he and the agency's executive director, Karl Hoyle, have included Mr. Swan in making decisions.
Rather than being maneuvered out of the loop, some agency staff argue that Mr. Swan has abdicated his responsibilities. Noting that his term expires in August, these staffers claim Mr. Swan has a short-timer's attitude toward regulating the industry.
They suggest he's pandering in hopes of landing a cushy job once he leaves.
"He doesn't make any effort (to get involved) until it's too late," said one agency source. "I try to provide him with all the information he asks for, but when I get to his office he's out at lunch."
"He's not a player," another staff member said.
An industry source disagreed that Mr. Swan has been coasting.
"I don't always agree with him, but I think he's a real conscientious guy," the source said. "He feels like he's been left out of the process."
Neither Mr. D'Amours nor Mr. Swan would comment on their relationship, but sources said that the two are less than friendly.
There's plenty of grounds for rivalry between the two. Mr. Swan, like Mr. D'Amours, is a Democrat and lobbied for the top NCUA job after former chairman Roger Jepsen's term expired.
Further, some sources said Mr. D'Amours raised Mr. Swan's ire by heavy- handedly establishing that he was the top regulator when he took control of the agency in November 1993.
There have been ego clashes, but an industry source said Mr. Swan is acting on what he thinks is right, not simply to obstruct Mr. D'Amours. If the latter were the case, Mr. Swan would have voted with the agency's third director, Shirlee Bowne, to oppose a tough regulation governing credit union conversions to thrift charters, the source said.
For her part, Ms. Bowne has sided with Mr. D'Amours every time Mr. Swan has opposed him.
Although Mr. Swan cannot be reappointed to a second term, he can hold his job past August until a replacement is confirmed. Because the Clinton administration is not known for its speedy nominations, Mr. Swan could be around for quite some time.
Indeed, industry and agency sources claim there has been little word on who will replace Mr. Swan, so there is no telling how long the estranged director will remain.
But for the duration, Mr. Swan plans to continue speaking his mind.
"I have a right to express an opinion," he said.