Maybe credit unions should avoid words that begin with D.

The industry has worked to increase its clout in Washington and made some progress.

Its trade associations were invited to testify on a bill aimed at providing regulatory relief to banks. That follows hearings in both the House and Senate on the industry’s top legislative priority of raising the cap on member business lending.

Then came Carla Decker and CUNA’s data backtrack.

At press time, Decker’s nomination to succeed NCUA Board Member Gigi Hyland was in limbo.

Appointments to low-profile regulatory boards are usually routine. Of course, the difficulties of Decker, the president/CEO of the District Government Employees FCU, have not been of a prurient nature. 

Rather, they’ve originated from the fact that her credit union had serious financial difficulties during the recession and the NCUA criticized some of her shortcomings as a manager.

When the Senate Banking Committee got wind of these problems, in part because of a report in Credit Union Times, it slowed down her nomination and didn’t include her in a confirmation hearing it held earlier this month for several nominees to financial regulatory boards.

Since then, neither the Obama administration nor the Senate Banking Committee has commented on the status of her nomination. Unfortunately for Decker, the Obama administration is following the practice of its predecessors and not letting its nominees make public comments before their confirmation hearing. 

Decker, who has been strongly supported by industry groups such as the National Federation of Community Credit Unions (of which her credit union is a member), might still wind up on the NCUA board. But even if the Senate eventually approves Decker, the roadblocks to what many expected would be a smooth path to confirmation amount to a chink in the industry’s armor. Contrast Decker’s bumpy path to the NCUA board with that of Thomas Hoenig, whom President Obama nominated (on the same October day as he named Decker) to be vice chairman of the FDIC.

Hoenig, a career regulator who was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, has sailed through the confirmation process even though he is Republican facing a Democratic-controlled Senate. His hearing before the Senate Banking Committee was characterized by bipartisan praise for his qualifications and the panel approved the nomination on Dec. 13 and sent it to the full Senate.

While Decker’s difficulties are mostly of interest to those who follow Washington policymaking, CUNA’s revision of its data on the number of new credit union members has received national attention.

With great fanfare, the trade association announced two days before Bank Transfer Day that credit unions had, had a net increase of 650,000 new members in the previous month. 

That number drove much of the print and broadcast media coverage during the next few days and satisfied journalists’ perennial desire to quantify trends whenever possible.

While some people were skeptical of the number, no one was able to produce data to refute it.

To its credit, when CUNA realized the error it made (which it attributed to faulty survey design), the association quickly acknowledged it during its weekly media conference call. However, once the initial reports of the revised data (the actual number of new members turned out to be 214,000) were posted on, the American Bankers Association made it a point of highlighting the mistake to other journalists. 

As a result, this stretched into a multi-day story that was picked up by several national publications, including the website of Time magazine. 

To be sure, the negative publicity did not do irreparable damage. However, it took some of the glow off of the effective media campaigns that the credit union industry executed before, during and after Bank Transfer Day.

The New Year will present credit unions with many additional opportunities to make their case on Capitol Hill and to the public.

If the industry learns from the problems it experienced with Decker and the erroneous membership data, it will be better able to make progress in achieving the items on its wish list.