President Clinton will appoint John D. Hawke Jr. to be comptroller of the currency on an interim basis, a White House official said Monday.

A formal announcement had not been released late Monday, but the official said President Clinton had decided to make the recess appointment.

Mr. Hawke, 65, was first nominated to the post in July and appeared a shoo-in until Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the Banking Committee's ranking Democrat, stalled the nomination in October. Under the recess appointment, Mr. Hawke will hold the job until the end of 1999 unless he gains Senate approval to a full, five-year term.

In a statement issued Monday, Sen. Sarbanes said he will continue to discuss the appointment with the White House.

"The administration has exercised its option for a recess appointment for Mr. Hawke," Sen. Sarbanes said. "I will continue to discuss with the Treasury issues of concern such as assuring adequate consumer protections to the unbanked under the Electronic Funds Transfer Program, and a continuing commitment to the Community Reinvestment Act."

The term of the previous comptroller, Eugene A. Ludwig, expired April 3. Since then, the post has been held by acting Comptroller Julie L. Williams.

Banking industry representatives lauded the appointment of Mr. Hawke, who because the Treasury Department's under secretary for domestic finance in 1995 after a career of practicing banking law.

"Certainly Hawke has excellent credentials and excellent experience both in and out of government," said Karen M. Thomas, director of regulatory affairs Independent Bankers Association of America. "He's very qualified to be comptroller of the currency."

"We're pleased that a full-time, knowledgeable attorney with Jerry's background will be heading the comptroller's office as we prepare for the new Congress," said James D. McLaughlin, director of regulatory affairs at the American Bankers Association.

Although Ms. Williams "has not shirked from addressing difficult issues," he said, Mr. Hawke would be able to make policy from a greater source of strength.

"Any acting comptroller doesn't quite have the clout that a full-time comptroller has in the eyes of the Congress," Mr. McLaughlin said. Asked if getting the job on a recess appointment makes any difference, he said: "I don't think so. He is the comptroller."

Even Robert A. Rusbuldt, executive vice president of federal affairs at the Independent Insurance Agents of America, complimented Mr. Hawke as honest, open-minded, and accessible.

Yet the agents have been embroiled in constant legal battles with prior comptrollers over insurance sales powers for banks, and Mr. Hawke is expected to be aggressive on bank powers. Mr. Rusbuldt noted that Mr. Hawke's backing for broad financial powers for bank operating subsidiaries faces "an uphill battle" on Capitol Hill.

"He is the No. 1 advocate of operating subsidiaries," he said. "There is not a lot of support in Congress for that position."

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