Political junkies in Washington last week were riveted by all the machinations surrounding President Obama's attempts to get his nominations through Congress. There were conspiracy theories and allegations. Talk of payback and retribution. Rumors and dark horse candidates. And all of that took place within the 703,000 square-feet building between 7th and 9th streets in the District.
On every other street in town the speculation and intrigue surrounded the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary following a bruising round of hearings. A process called "ugly" by a number of beltway insiders isn't expected to get any prettier as the president now seeks approval for his nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director.
None of that got much play from another group of Washington insiders last week, however; in this case the-inside-the-Washington-Convention-Center insiders on hand for CUNA's GAC. No, those insiders were much more obsessed with nominations for the board of that high-profile federal agency that ranks right behind Defense and the CIA in importance (but often ahead of it in intrigue and skullduggery): the National Credit Union Administration.
7 Things To Consider
As Credit Union Journal first reported last week and as is also reported on page 12, Chip Filson is championing a petition drive aimed at getting the White House to consider commitment to the seven cooperative principles when nominating someone to fill all future NCUA board seats (you can find more at coops4change.com).
At a press conference in the convention center, Filson, the president of Callahan & Associates, stressed that the petition drive isn't about him, but instead about three things: ensuring co-op principles drive NCUA decision-making; giving everyone the opportunity to participate in the process, and providing a framework for how a cooperative regulator performs in the 21st century.
We may indeed be in the 21st century, but the presidential nomination and appointment process is plainly parked back in the 18th: to the winning party go the spoils, including rewarding those who helped winning candidates get into office with appointments to various posts.
Where there is a 21st century twist is that the White House now executes on another 18th century concept-freedom to petition the government-with an online tool that collects signatures on petitions and will issue a formal response with one big IF: IF you get 100,000 people to put their e-John Hancock on the e-parchment.
A Lot Of Friends & Family
If that weren't daunting enough, Filson-who distributed a business card at his press conference that listed his title simply as "candidate"-now has just three weeks left to try to hit six figures. And even if he hits the 100K milestone and gets a formal response from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Filson has one other challenge-he's a Republican. But in this case GOP doesn't necessarily mean DOA, as many expect the current vacancy on the NCUA board to remain vacant until Michael Fryzel's term expires in August, and a Democrat and a Republican can both be nominated as a package deal. Should that petition succeed, both could be pledging a commitment to the cooperative principles.
By the way, you may be saying right now, "Frank, I obviously know three or four of those principles and could shout them out this minute if I wanted to, but a few of them are a bit fuzzy; how 'bout a reminder?" The seven Cooperative Principles are voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education/training/information, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community. In case anyone asks or you happen to find yourself in the Cash Cab today.
Filson, who served at NCUA during a very challenging era in the early 1980s under Chairman Ed Callahan (a political appointee of Ronald Reagan), said he understands his call for a commitment to the cooperative principles may strike some as archaic and out of step, especially in the context of his references to a 21st century approach. But as he explains, "If you think about credit unions and who we are, performance without purpose will amalgamate us with all these other financial institutions that are out there today. There have been acts like Dodd Frank that attempt to make institutions more and more alike. Unless we think different and act different we run the risk of being homogenized and losing our distinctiveness."
Filson was hardly singing solo last week in calling for more input into the NCUA board nomination process. NASCUS President Mary Martha Fortney opined in Credit Union Journal that one of the three seats on the NCUA board should permanently be set aside for a state regulator, as 40% of all FICUs are state-chartered.
Nights At The (Big) Round Table
But should a seat be reserved just for state regulators? One person at GAC last week asked whether the NCUA board shouldn't be expanded to five people to represent all the constituencies within the CU community. Of course once it goes to five, someone will want seven, then nine and eventually the board will outnumber CUs themselves.
True, that could make for an unwieldy NCUA board, but it would also allow the president to return an awful lot of favors.
Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at email@example.com.