WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday nominated North Carolina’s top banking official to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Obama tapped Joseph A. Smith Jr., the North Carolina commissioner of banks, for the role of overseeing the quasi-governmental agencies just as they are about to undergo a restructuring by Congress. He would have to be confirmed by a vote of the full Senate.
“Mr. Smith brings to this position both tremendous expertise and a deep commitment to strengthening our housing finance system for the American people,” Obama said in his nomination. “I’m grateful that he has accepted this nomination, and I look forward to working with him in the months and years to come.”
Smith also would over see the nation’s 12 Federal Home Banks. If confirmed, Smith would take charge at a critical time for the federal housing agency.
When Congress passed the financial overhaul this year, it left out the housing sector as an issue yet to tackle. Part of that will be a restructuring of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The agencies now exist to purchase the mortgages of lenders such as Bank of America, freeing up cash to make yet more loans.
“This is one where Republicans and Democrats can find some common ground,” Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a member of the Financial Services Committee, said in an interview last week.
While both parties want changes, lawmakers differ on whether to privatize the two agencies entirely or whether to retain some governmental backing. Smith would be in charge of carrying out the changes.
As North Carolina's banks commissioner, Smith heads an agency charged with the supervision of banks and thrift institutions; the licensing and regulation of firms and individuals engaged in mortgage banking and brokerage; and the regulation of a variety of consumer finance enterprises.
He was a financial services attorney in Washington and previously served as general counsel and secretary for Centura Banks in Rocky Mount, N.C. He has a bachelor’s degree from Davidson College and a law degree from the University of Virginia.
Smith would replace acting FHFA director Edward J. DeMarco. Barrett reported from Washington, Rexrode from Charlotte, N.C.