Top officials of the three federal bankers, yes, they would be willing to Senate hearing that if they were bankers, yes, they would be willing to hire Bert Lance for an executive position. But only under certain circumstances.
The regulators' hedged stances on Lance's possible return to banking were divulged reluctantly by Comptroller of the Currency John G. Heimann, Federal Reserve board vice chairman Stephen S.C Gardner in response to persisten questioning from Sen. Edward W! Brooke (R-Wise.), who also chided the regulators for their apparent reluctance to embrace bank reform proposals in the wake of the Lance affair, calling their testimony "a letdown."
"You all state in the light of the sad record that has been revealed that you would hire him (Lance) again," Proxmire told the three officials.
He said this position reflected on the standards of the regulators, but said he prefereed t believe that they responded as they did because they were "gentle and compassionate diplomats" who were sensitive to lance's close friendship to President Carter.
Lance resigned last week as budget director after weeks of disclosures abut how he ran two Gerogia banks before coming to Washington. The disclosues raised questions both about his judgment and about certain banking practices such as personal overdrafts by bankers and the way stock purchases are financed.
The former budget director has not disclosed his plans, nor has he received a firm offer to return to banking. But officials at both the banks where Lance was chief executive officer - the National Bank of Gerogia (NBG) and the Calhoun First national bank - have indicated he could return in a top position.
However, Lance's affairs continue to be probed by a number of federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department, which is conducting a criminal investigation into Lance's use of a corporate jet while at NBG.
The three bank regulators each took a different tack when Brooke asked them whether, giver what had been disclosed, they would choose Lance for a top banking position.
"Would I hire him? It would depend on the job I needed to have done in my institution," responded Currency Comptroller Helmann. When this answer was greeted with laughter. Heimann siad it "came out more humorously than I intended."
"I feel very uncomfortable being asked that question," sia d the Fed's vice chairman. He couched his response in the abstract, noting that, even if someone were once cited for "unsafe and unsound" banking practices - as Lance was in connection with the overdrafts at the Calhoun bank - if the situation was corrected and a requlatory cease-and-desist order was lifted, the individual still would be eligible to serve as a bank officer, if the original offense involved dishonesty, gardner said his position would be different.
Brooke,disaatified, again asked heimann about hiring Lance, noting that the comptroller himself had referred the matter of Lance's use of the NBG airplane to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
He explained that Lance had "rather unique talents in certain areas" that helped both banks where he served to increase in size rapidly. But Heimann sia he would make sure there were "management controls" over Lance.
"If I were in control of a bank. I would accept his offer and put him to work producing new business," was LeMaistre's answer. "At the moment, he's the second most popular man in Georgia." the FDIC chairman added joculously.
Proxmire, meanwhile, express dissatisfaction that the regulators were advocating a go-slow approach in overhauling the banking laws. He said ther e was now "a golden apportunity" to pass some banking reforms because Congress and the country are receptive, but told the regulatory officials, "You don't seem too concerned."
The officials said they were cooperating in conducting a survey of the banks they regulate to see how widespread some of th alleged abuses are and until tey see the results, they would like to withhold firm positions on reform.