Bush administration officials, concerned about risks posed by an array of government-created companies that finance everything from housing to student loans, is circulating draft proposals that would force these companies to improve their balance sheets or face sharp restrictions on their activities.
The drafts, one from the Treasury and one from the Office of Management and Budget, would require the Federal National Mortgage Association, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., the Student Loan Marketing Association and others to obtain triple-A credit ratings -- the highest grade -- from two nationally recognized credit rating agencies. Copies of the proposals were obtained by The Post.
The government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs as they are known in government circles, however, argue that they serve a useful purpose and that restricting their activities unnecessarily or charging them fees that would raise their costs would inevitably raise costs to home buyers, farmers and students.
"These proposals are outrageous," said a spokesman for the Federal National Mortgage Association, which buys mortgages from lenders to provide more money for housing. "They are the wrong proposals, made at the wrong time and in the wrong place. They could devastate the housing and financial markets. ... We will fight them with all we've got."
Under the proposals, the ratings would have to be based on the company's own financial condition. The rating agencies would be forbidden to consider any implied or explicit federal backing for the company's debt.
Any of these agencies that were unable to get the triple-A ratings would be required to submit to the Treasury a comprehensive business plan designed to achieve the ratings within five years.
Failure to meet these requirements would result in loss of some of the benefits the enterprise derives from its federal connection, such as exemption from Securities and Exchange Commission registration.
In addition, the Treasury Department would be empowered to draw up what it regarded as a satisfactory business plan. Such a plan could include limits on growth, issuance of debt and dividends paid to shareholders.
Both the Treasury and OMB proposals would require the president to include in his budget each year the value of the federal subsidy to each of the agencies.
The OMB plan goes a step further, suggesting that Treasury could impose fees or "risk premiums" on those rated less than triple-A.
The proposals also would consolidate regulation of the agencies in the Treasury. They now fall under regulation from various government departments or under none.
The drafts have been presented to a staff-level administration-congressional working group that is considering government credit problems and other issues.
GSEs have been receiving renewed attention in the wake of the savings and loan crisis. Created to help finance housing, agriculture and education, the agencies are expected to have more than $1 trillion in securities, financial guarantees and reinsurance outstanding by 1991. One GSE, the Farm Credit System, already has run into trouble and had to be bailed out a few years ago. There is concern that others might follow, adding to the drain on the budget.