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ALEXANDRIA, Va.-Everything about NCUA Executive Director Len Skiles says U.S. Marine Corps: from the obvious antique, framed Marine Corps poster on the wall of his office and the Marine Corps coasters, to his short, neatly combed hair and finely pressed shirt. His pet bird can even whistle the Marine Corps anthem. However, his demeanor is totally different from that of the Hollywood-ized version of a retired Marine Colonel. Skiles is politely quiet and easy-going. His flexibility and leadership skills have led him to become somewhat of a guinea pig for the agency. In February, Skiles became the first agency career employee to hold the executive director position. Prior to February, the position had been filled by a political appointee. “I’m very fortunate to be working for this board.” Skiles said. “There are many advantages to having a career person here. First, it brings an institutional knowledge.” Having been with NCUA since 1973, he explained that he understood the inner workings of the agency and its “language,” and his experience afforded him greater credibility with the staff. As executive director, Skiles answers to the board, ensures its policies are carried out, and keeps the board members informed on a daily basis. He also deals with the six regions on program issues, works with the general counsel’s office, and deals with personnel issues. But, just because Skiles came into the job with a working knowledge of the agency, it did not make the job a breeze. He described this first year in the position as busy, working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Several items, known or unforeseen, have made the task of running the 1,000-employee agency even more difficult than usual. With a view of smoke streaming from the Pentagon in the distance on September 11, the agency had to make several operational decisions for that day and into the future relating to the attacks. Also with anthrax running through the mail system, particularly in the federal government, decisions had to be made to how, when, and if the mail was to be handled. Additionally, the agency had ordered an outside study of the overhead transfer rate by Deloitte and Touche, the results of which came out last month. The results and the NCUA Board’s decision on where to set the rate impacted the operating fee for federal credit unions and what portion of the NCUA budget would come from the insurance fund. The NCUA Board also announced its first-ever public open forum on the agency’s budget, which encompassed the overhead transfer rate. During the hearing, Skiles presented the credit union community with a detailed glimpse into the agency’s budget making process. “We accomplished what we set out to do,” Skiles said of the meeting, which was to provide information to the credit union stakeholders, identify problem areas, and provide goals and objectives. While Skiles said that the comments received during the hearing and the additional 22 written comments were helpful to budget decision makers, the budget went unchanged from the hearing to the Board Action Memorandum. “Most commenters’ recommendations to the budget didn’t specify any specific areas they wanted reduced,” he explained. Mostly, the letters said the agency should instill budget discipline. “I’ve been receiving those kinds of comments for a long time.” “Our current board is behind controlling budget growth.Any board member would want us to have a disciplined budget,” he said. He noted that there has been no immediate outcry from the industry on the slight budget increase, overhead transfer rate setting, or the operating fee from the November board meeting. Just because the hearing is over, the listening process has not stopped. “My vision is that probably throughout this year, I’m going to have an open dialogue with credit unions,” Skiles said. He added that the agency would probably incorporate all the suggestions from the Deloitte and Touche study on the overhead transfer rate. The agency has already implemented an ongoing time survey, which should provide more accurate information on how employee time was divided up between insurance- and non-insurance-related matters. “NCUA, as an insurer, has to be as objective as we possibly can. I know that’s our statutory responsibility,” Skiles said. He added that he realizes the subjectivity of the process, which is why it’s important to get information from the stakeholders. While the setting of the overhead transfer rate has caused a stir among the credit union community that is no reason to separate the regulatory agency from the insurer. Skiles commented, “I haven’t seen any reasonable suggestion that shows it’s less costly to split NCUA and NCUSIF.” He said he had seen no evidence of the agency not being impartial in its decision, and they work very hard at it. In making a decision, Skiles said staff weighed all the factors and comments, arrived at a range of 62% to 70% and went with the lower end, as the agency has historically. In line with his history with the agency of trying new things, Skiles also organized and became the president of the Asset Management and Assistance Center (AMAC) in Austin, which handles assets from liquidated credit unions. He explained that liquidation was used as an absolute last resort, a kind of necessary evil. “We have always tried everything possible to save a credit union.” he said. “Are we sorry when we have to liquidate a credit union? Absolutely.” Skiles was also in charge of developing field of membership regulations following the passage of the Credit Union Membership Access Act (H.R. 1151), including IRPS 99-1 on up. As chairman of the Field of Membership Taskforce, Skiles helped create field of membership rules well received by the credit union community, but widely opposed by the bankers. “It’s been an interesting time in dealing with field of membership.If you look at the court decisions, we did pretty good,” Skiles said, referring to the recent rejection of the American Bankers Association’s appeal. He just relinquished his chairmanship through an action at the November board meeting. Skiles is a self-described career public servant, though there is no denying it either. He was hired as an NCUA staff attorney in 1973 and became deputy general counsel in 1975. By 1980, Skiles was promoted to Region V director and in 1990 organized and became President of the AMAC. After the AMAC, he spent another two years as Region V director until being promoted to the agency’s executive director in February. Skiles added that he has no plans to retire soon. Though he has held the position at the agency’s Alexandria headquarters since February, he just bought a home in the area in August and his wife of 32 years, Sheila, moved up from Austin, Texas the week before Thanksgiving. Skiles enjoys woodworking but lamented that the townhouse they purchased in Alexandria is not large enough to accommodate all the necessary tools. While Skiles credits the Marines with giving him discipline and a strong work ethic, it may have backfired on him. Skiles last vacation was four years ago, which he said was because of work issues. “I don’t believe you should do what I’ve done in the past four years,” he said, adding that he will take a vacation next year. Skiles earned an A.B. from the University of Georgia in 1966 and a J.D. from the University’s law school in 1968 at age 24. After finishing school, he volunteered for the Marines, but while waiting to serve, he practiced law for about six months. He is still a Member of the Bar in Georgia and has a plaque on his office wall stating that he may argue before the Supreme Court, though he never has. In the spare time he has, Skiles has served as the commissioner of a soccer program for all of southern Texas, from Waco on down to Brownsville, though he does not play. He has also taught Sunday school and is on the vestry of his church. His sons, Brad and Andy, attend the University of Texas, studying communication arts and medicine, respectively. As most everyone working in the credit union industry, Skiles is a credit union member. He belongs to Navy FCU, Austin Telco FCU, and United Heritage FCU (Austin). His dirty little secret: “I love my credit union but I have maintained accounts at other institutions.” [email protected]

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