Expanding credit union regulator board finds room for discussion at hearing

Should the board for the federal credit union regulator be expanded? At least one Republican senator thinks that’s a worthwhile idea – and the Democratic-nominated chairman of the agency board did not outright reject the idea at a hearing Thursday.

During a confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, NCUA Board Chairman Todd Harper (who is also up for another term on the board, again as chairman) noted that there are some upsides to expanding the panel – now with three members – to one with five members.

During questions to him from Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) during the committee’s hearing on his nomination to a full term on the NCUA Board, Harper indicated that there are two sides to expanding the membership of the agency leadership group.

“Certainly a disadvantage of going to a larger board would be higher costs for that board and perhaps slowing down the process,” Harper said. “On the flip side of that, though, it would create more voices at the table in order to have more informed decision making.”

Harper also noted “that state regulators have long called for an increase in the size of the NCUA Board.” He also pointed out that adding more members to the board could change a structural defect that limits communications among board members.

“The sunshine act rules make it difficult for me to talk one-on-one with my fellow board members because when you have a three-member board, two people talking together is a majority and you have to notice that,” he said, referring to publication of board meetings for public review in the Federal Register. “A larger board would facilitate the board-member-to-board-member interaction.”

Daines seemed to be open to the idea of an expanded board, saying he appreciated Harper’s view. He said “looking at the reality” of how many members the agency board has had since its 1979 inception (22), and a four-year run of having only two board members during the last decade, “there’s an argument for considering making the board larger.”

Any change in the size of the NCUA Board will require a change in the Federal Credit Union Act; there is currently no legislation before Congress calling for that.

Harper was nominated last month by President Joe Biden (D) to a term on the NCUA Board ending in 2027; the White House has indicated Harper will continue as chairman. Harper’s nomination is somewhat a first among NCUA Board members as he is essentially succeeding himself (he is now serving in a “holdover” status as the term he was serving officially ended in April).