Industry sources say the White House, after stalling for months on picking a new head for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is leaning toward Office of Management and Budget official Wendy Gramm for what suddenly has become a crucial job.
Gramm did not return calls yesterday, but sources said they expect her to be appointed to the CFTC job soon. The nomination would have to be approved by the Senate.
Gramm is an economist who taught at Texas A&M University before moving to Washington when her husband, Phil, was elected to Congress in 1978. The CFTC chairmanship has been vacant since Susan Phillips left in July.
The CFTC's mission includes regulating financial futures markets, which have become a center of controversy in the stock market crisis of the past several weeks. New York Stock Exchange officials and several members of Congress have charged that the market's plunge was exaggerated by computer-directed transactions in stock index futures, which allow stocks to be traded for future delivery much the same as corn and wheat.
Acting CFTC Chairman Kalo Hineman has said that so-called program trading was not a major factor in record decline in stock prices on Oct. 19. Representatives of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange were in Washington yesterday defending their stock index futures, which they say cushioned rather than exaggerated the stock market fall.
Stock index futures were approved by the CFTC despite some objections from the securities industry that they might make the stock market more volatile. The administration's two previous CFTC heads -- Phillips and Philip Johnson -- both advocated permitting innovative new financial instruments to be tested in the marketplace.
Gramm, too, has earned a reputation as an opponent of regulation as head of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which reviews rules written by every federal agency.
Her antiregulation philosophy has won Gramm the endorsement of several influential commodity industry groups, but some in the industry have questioned putting a person unfamiliar with the markets in charge of them during a crucial time.