Top-Shelf Reporting Could Produce a Big Tab: Executive Editor's Column
I owe the NCUA's public affairs office a round of drinks. Probably more than one.
In the last couple of weeks, Credit Union Times reporting has pressured the agency into making three big announcements.
The most recent was the Nov. 6 news that the NCUA will establish a new office to handle agency security and business continuity. (See our coverage on page 1: New Security Office Underway at NCUA)
That revelation was in response to my questions about examiner safety, after NCUA employees found ammunition and semi-automatic weapons stashed in a credit union storage room by former Taupa Lithuanian Federal Credit Union CEO Alex Spirikaitis.
Plenty of credit union employees have found themselves staring down the barrel of a gun. I understand that; I've been in a takeover myself and it was terrifying.
Because robberies are part of the job, credit unions detail policies and procedures regarding exactly what employees should do during robberies to minimize risk. And, credit unions also take out additional insurance policies to protect against legal claims.
But what about the NCUA? I combed through the NCUA employee handbook and found nothing about field examiner safety procedures, not even to protect employees against the known danger of takeovers that could occur while they are onsite at credit unions. And additionally, there were no procedures that detailed how field employees should approach conservatorships or liquidations in the event of suspected fraud, or if field employees suspect the soon-to-be-ousted CEO might provoke a volatile situation for other reasons.
Perhaps those 10,000 rounds of ammo at Taupa Lithuanian weren't intended for NCUA employees, but they were meant for someone. Examiners could have easily been caught in the crossfire.
When I first approached the NCUA with these questions, I didn't get much of a response. That may have changed after I asked the National Treasury Employees Union for their opinion. While the union acknowledged that the situation in Cleveland was unusual, the NTEU also expressed some concern about examiner safety. Not a surprise there, as on-the-job safety is common concern for unions. NTEU President Colleen Kelley said the union and NCUA will work together to ensure safety concerns are addressed, and the NCUA confirmed that.
So let's recap: as a result of my pesky questions, at least in part, the NCUA had to deal with a new union beef and put resources into forming a new office as it finalizes its 2014 budget.
If that wasn't bad enough, Credit Union Times also spent the last two weeks pestering the NCUA about tips we received regarding Board Member Rick Metsger's choice of Michael Radway to serve as his chief policy adviser. Even though Radway must still receive White House personnel office approval, the NCUA publicly acknowledged the selection Nov. 1, literally minutes before we were set to break the news ourselves.
Radway is an interesting figure, and I'm looking forward to working with him over the next four years. He certainly has the background for the job. He was chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle for five years, and served as legislative director for Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) for 14 years prior to that.
But it's Radway's job before working for Kanjorski that will raise eyebrows in the credit union world: he spent seven years as legislative director for Rep. Norman E. D’Amours (D-N.H.)
Yes, you read that right, Radway use to work for the notoriously boorish former NCUA chairman. Small world, eh?
Finally, I think Credit Union Times should also claim some credit for an Oct. 30 announcement from the NCUA that it is developing new exam procedures to better root out fraud at small credit unions. A full rollout is scheduled for next year. The NCUA said it won't conduct separate fraud exams, but rather enhance current exam procedures so examiners detect fraud earlier during routine safety and soundness exams.
We've been making a lot of noise regarding the effect fraud at small credit unions could have on the entire industry. I know some would prefer we just brush this topic under the rug, but most of the credit unions that have failed in the last couple of years were due to fraud. As news professionals, we can't ignore that glaring fact.
Thankfully, the professionals at the NCUA know that and understand the symbiotic relationship between the government and the press. But that doesn't mean I don't still owe them all a stiff drink.