“My turn is up,” Bair, 57, said in an interview. “These jobs shouldn’t be forever. Fresh perspectives are good. . . . It’s a great institution that will do just fine without me.”
Bair, a lifelong Republican who took over at the FDIC in 2006, was one of the first federal regulators to publicly warn about the aggressive lending practices that flooded the mortgage system with excessively risky loans during the housing market’s boom years.
Soon after President George W. Bush tapped her to lead the agency, Bair pushed the government to demand that the banks modify troubled mortgages on a wide scale. By then, loans were starting to default at an alarming rate. Her advice, however, went unheeded.
Bair went on to play a high-profile role in shaping the government’s response to the financial crisis that followed, often berating the industry’s sluggish reaction to the foreclosure mess. Under her stewardship, the FDIC has seized 362 banks since 2008, including 40 this year.
Her aggressive stance toward the industry often has put her at odds with fellow Republicans and some Obama administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. Bair and Geithner have sparred over many issues, from bank bailouts to elements of the far-reaching financial overhaul bill approved by Congress last year.
More recently, Bair has chastised the industry for the flawed paperwork that led some of the nation’s largest banks to temporarily halt foreclosures. Federal and state officials have since teamed up to negotiate a settlement with these mortgage servicers, which may include billions of dollars in financial penalties.
The White House asked Bair if she was interested in serving another term or playing another role in the administration, but she declined, a source familiar with the talks said.
Bair, a Kansas native, came to Washington to work for Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) in 1981 after receiving a philosophy degree and then a law degree from the University of Kansas.
After a failed run for a U.S. House seat in 1990, she went on to work at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the New York Stock Exchange and the Treasury Department, where she oversaw financial institutions.
Bair taught at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for four years before taking the FDIC job.
In the interview, Bair said she plans to stay in Washington, spend more time with her husband and two children, and possibly serve on the board of a few non-financial firms.
A “what went wrong” book may also be on the horizon, she said.
“I’d like to write a book for the adult population,” said Bair, who has already written two children’s books about money. “Eventually, I’d like to transition to a real job again, maybe something in the non-profit sector.”