Nick Timiraos, Wall Street Journal

The White House has begun preparations to nominate a new director to lead the agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as soon as early next year, according to people familiar with the discussions. This would pave the way for President Barack Obama to fill what has become one of the most important economic policy positions in Washington.

The director the Federal Housing Finance Agency has emerged as a key policymaker because it is the principal gatekeeper to Fannie and Freddie, the mortgage giants that own or guarantee half of all mortgages, at a time when broken mortgage markets have become a top concern of officials at the White House and the Federal Reserve.

The FHFA’s current director, Edward DeMarco, took the job more than three years ago in an “acting,” or interim, capacity. He has remained in the position after the Obama administration’s first nominee for the job, Joseph Smith Jr., then the North Carolina banking commissioner, withdrew from consideration in January 2011 amid opposition from Senate Republicans. The FHFA, created 4½ years ago, has never had its own director confirmed by the Senate.

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