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FDIC CHIEF’S RETIREMENT HURTS S&L BAILOUT

SHARE FDIC CHIEF’S RETIREMENT HURTS S&L BAILOUT

The departure of L. William Seidman as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. would mark a turning point as the mammoth cleanup of the savings and loan industry loses an able regulator.

While other officials of the costly and controversial thrift bailout have resigned before, Seidman's loss would be felt the most, say supporters in Congress."Paralysis has been the defining characteristic of the cleanup, but one of the bright spots has been you, Mr. Seidman," Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told him recently.

Seidman, 69, has said he would leave before the end of his term in October 1991, but the administration is pressing him to depart soon so that President Bush can make his own appointment, according to industry and government sources.

The White House recently confirmed it was looking for a successor to Seidman, but Bush denied that he was trying to pressure the regulator to leave.

Seidman, who is highly regarded in Congress and in the banking industry, has clashed with the Bush administration on occasion, particularly over the shaping of the thrift bailout law, sources said.

Schumer, an influential member of the House Banking Committee, voiced the fear of other lawmakers that they would be losing a candid voice on the thrift disaster.

But some analysts say that if the administration picks the right successor, the bailout could be helped because it would end destructive friction among government agencies.

The chairman of the FDIC plays a key role in regulating the nation's 13,000 banks and 2,600 thrifts and also heads the Resolution Trust Corp., the federal agency created to dispose of failed thrifts.

Covering the losses from federally insured thrifts that have failed will cost American taxpayers billions of dollars and threatens to swell the federal budget deficit.

Although the FDIC is an independent agency, Bush wants more control by naming his own chairman because the thrift cleanup's failure would hurt the GOP, Republican lawmakers have said.

"I don't think you can do better than Bill Seidman, but somebody in the White House wants his own person in there," said Mark Riedy, president of the National Council of Savings Institutions, which represents banks and thrifts.

Democrats say the Bush administration has given insufficient attention to the thrift crisis and wants to punish the messenger for bringing bad news.

Seidman was one of the first to warn about the magnitude of the crisis, saying it would cost more than the official estimate of $159 billion over 10 years.

"We are nudging out people like Bill Seidman who has the courage to speak his mind," said Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark.

But Republicans say Seidman and the administration are cooperating to ensure the cleanup will succeed after the FDIC chief leaves.

"This does not represent any rupture in the process. It's clear there will be no departure without a smooth transition," Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, told Reuters.

Bush has indicated that he is thinking of choosing another well-regarded bank regulator, William Taylor, as the successor to Seidman. Taylor is the Federal Reserve Board's director of bank supervision and acting president of the RTC Oversight Board.

"His reputation is good. I expect he would get a favorable reception from the committee," said House Banking Committee member Bill McCollum, R-Fla.

Replacing Seidman with Taylor could help the cleanup by easing the turf-fighting that has occurred between agencies but probably will not bring big policy changes, says Kenneth McLean, president of McLean and Associates, a consulting firm.

"There has been a lot of friction over operating style between the FDIC and the Treasury," he said, adding that Taylor would probably take the same tough approach to bank regulation as Seidman.

Seidman says he will stay at least through June 30. But in what sounded like a farewell, he told a recent congressional hearing that the thrift cleanup's success depends on selling foreclosed assets, the state of the economy and the courage to take bold action.

"Don't be impatient. This is a long, hard job which is not going to be accomplished anytime soon," he told the lawmakers.