Regulators Are Focus of Attention as Fair-Lending Issue Gains Steam

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- As with bankers, the minority-lending issue has turned a spotlight on banking regulators.

Congress and consumer advocates have criticized the four bank and thrift agencies for not vigorously enforcing civil rights laws. Growing increasingly frustrated with, their actions, these interest groups have cajoled, bullied, and even threatened the regulators.

Legislation has been proposed to force the regulators to more rigorously enforce community reinvestment and antidiscrimination laws. And some activists have talked of suing the regulators for malfeasance.

Comptroller Sets Tone

Partly as a result of this attention, and partly as a result of the new administration coming to Washington, the regulators have begun talking tough.

Eugene Ludwig, the comptroller of the currency and the first key Clinton appointee in banking regulation, has set a blistering pace.

Mr. Ludwig has already announced revamped fair-lending exam procedures and a testing program to detect bias at national banks.

He is working with the administration on strengthening Community Reinvestment Act regulations -- including emphasizing the importance of lenders' Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records -- and working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to step up enforcement.

Others Jump on Bandwagon

Mr. Ludwig's vigor has energized some of the other agencies.

On the same day his agency announced the fair-lending rules and testing program for national banks, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. …