Compliance Insight with David Schneier

Sheila Bair is My Choice to be Treasury Secretary

I was watching CNN this morning, and one of the stories they covered was that of President-elect Obama's selecting his cabinet. In a poll taken regarding this topic, 41% of respondents identified the Secretary of the Treasury as the most important position to be filled; Secretary of State was a distant second at 25%. Think about that for a moment ...

It really shouldn't come as any great surprise, as polls like this one often reflect what's occupying everyone's mind, and these days it's all about the economy. It was also really convenient, as I was already planning on blogging about why I'm pulling for Sheila Bair to be nominated for the job. Four years ago I doubt I could've even held my own in a cocktail party conversation about the position or its candidates, and here I am with not only a strong opinion, but a wealth of facts to support my position.

First of all, if you ply your trade within the banking sector, it's hard not to notice who or what Sheila Bair has been during this still unfolding crisis. She's sort of like a rock star within the industry for her calm, cool and even-handed management at the helm of the FDIC. When the first bank of note went under (IndyMac in July) she timed the issuance of the FDIC press release with the news of the bank's failure. Her message was succinct and very much to the point: All was well. No one was losing any money, the FDIC was doing its job, and there was no need to run to the bank and pull out your cash. She has needed to issue similar messages many more times since then, but always without so much as blinking, clearing her throat or avoiding eye contact (all figuratively speaking). When people started questioning if the $100,000 FDIC-insured amount was sufficient to protect the masses, she spearheaded a temporary limit increase to $250,000, which more or less eliminated any concern on that front. Most recently, when related agencies were trying to devise programs and support mechanisms to provide assistance to homeowners in crisis, she came out and called it a good start, but not enough. She than went on a media tour discussing what her agency has done to work with the IndyMac mortgage holders to give them every realistic chance to stay in their homes.

Unlike the current $700 billion bailout plan, which thus far promises to bailout only the banks that were largely responsible for this mess, and not provide concrete plans for those individuals in distress, Bair has provided some very real and very specific ideas on how that bailout can be used to help the taxpayers. So, not only is she a steadying, calming influence in the midst of our crisis, she's also someone who has a good idea how to solve the problem, as well as the courage to push it forward. But of even greater importance to me, as a homeowner with a mortgage, her proposed solutions would help people just like me if I needed it. Her ideas resonate with people not possessing advanced economics and finance degrees. President-elect Obama won the election based largely on selling the promise of change, of a new way of running our country that would allow its citizens a voice and a role in turning things around. What would be a better example of his commitment to this promise than to pick someone who's already doing much of what's needed?

I find it hard to believe that some of the other supposed front-runners for this appointment -- especially those who made their fortunes on Wall Street -- can serve as Secretary of the Treasury and make decisions that will result in change for the better, change for the taxpayers, change for homeowners in crisis. I don't find it hard to believe that Sheila Bair can pull this off, though, because she already has.

Quite frankly, we've had a power broker from Wall Street at the financial wheel these past four years, and I'd have to say it's been a little less than successful. I want someone who has already displayed an ability to manage under pressure and help the average citizen. I want someone who has already displayed an ability to do things differently and avoid recycled concepts.

I realize I'm swimming in waters outside my typical blogging space, but just the same it's extremely relevant to what it is that I do, or rather what it is I will be doing. We're going to be getting hammered in the next year or so with all sorts of new legislation to try and prevent this mess from happening again. We need the person helping shape these new regulations to be someone who gets it. OK, I need the person helping shape these new regulations to be someone who gets it because I'm going to be dealing with whatever it is for a long, long time. So selfish or otherwise, for my money, the best person available is Sheila Bair.

Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear from the readers on this topic.

About the Author

David Schneier

David Schneier

Director of Professional Services

David Schneier is Director of Professional Services for Icons Inc., an information security consultancy focused on helping financial institutions meet regulatory compliance with respect to GLBA 501(b) and NCUA Part 748 A and B. He has over 20 years' experience in Information Technology, including application development, infrastructure management, software quality assurance and IT audit and compliance.

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