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Fannie Plans Retention Bonuses As Outlined by the Government

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fannie Mae, the federally run mortgage finance giant, plans to pay four top executives $1 million or more in retention bonuses.

The bonus plan prompted the company's federal regulator to defend compensation decisions the government made when it took over Fannie Mae in September. It comes as American International Group faces public outrage over $165 million in bonuses it awarded last week.

Fannie Mae, which suffered $59 billion in losses last year, has requested $15 billion in taxpayer assistance and has said it expects to need plenty more.

Chief Operating Officer Michael Williams is in line for a $1.3 million bonus. Deputy Chief Financial Officer David Hisey is slated for $1.1 million, while executive vice presidents Thomas Lund, responsible for the mortgage business, and Kenneth Bacon, responsible for housing and community development, are each in line for $1 million.

A fifth of this money was paid in 2008. Executives will receive about 60 percent of the remaining funds this year and, depending on performance, as much as 40 percent next year. These executives earned salaries of $385,000 to $676,000 last year.

Fannie Mae chief executive Herbert M. Allison did not take a salary or bonus in 2008. He received $60,000 largely to compensate for his move to Washington to run the company. He was offered a $900,000 base salary. His 2009 salary and bonus haven't been set.

When it took over Fannie Mae, the government instituted a retention program. Under the program, employees deemed crucial to the company's efforts to carry out government housing plans are eligible to receive retention payments, but some may not receive any.

"Many employees have received significant pay reductions, with no bonuses for 2008 performance and all past stock grants are virtually worthless. This retention program is pay for specific efforts underway now to meet national goals," Federal Housing Finance Agency director James B. Lockhart III said in a statement.

"We started to design a retention plan with a compensation consultant even before the [take over] because it was critical to retain their most important asset -- their employees -- who are being asked to play a vital role in the nation's economic recovery," he said. "As the previous senior management teams left, it would have been catastrophic to lose the next layers down and other highly experienced employees."

FHFA signs off on all major compensation decisions. Freddie Mac hasn't disclosed its retention payments, yet. It is expected to do so in coming months, and its payments should resemble those at Fannie Mae.

Insiders say that a few hundred people at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will receive bonuses, and the average bonus should be in the mid-five figures.

It's a big contrast to what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac employees experienced in the past, when their shares were skyrocketing and stock-based awards were a popular way to compensate employees, from entry-level secretaries to senior staff.

Many of those employees lost small fortunes when the companies' shares collapsed. Stock grants play no role in current compensation practices at the firms.

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