WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. derivatives regulatory agency is facing a leadership shake-up just as it deals with some of the thorniest issues in its overhaul of rules for Wall Street, lobbyists and people inside the agency say.
Chris Giancarlo, a senior manager at New-York based derivatives broker GFI Group Inc, is expected to be nominated as a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the people said.
“I’ve definitely heard he’s getting finalized,” by the White House, a bank lobbyist said, asking not to be named so he could speak freely.
The CFTC was given extensive new powers to overhaul the $630 trillion swaps market after the 2007-09 credit meltdown, and has been writing scores of new rules to change the structure of the opaque market, dominated by investment banks.
Giancarlo would take the place of Jill Sommers, a Republican commissioner who decided to leave after President Barack Obama won a second term in office.
Giancarlo, also a Republican, declined to comment.
The change would come on top of the departure of CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler, a Democrat who will not see his term renewed after transforming the agency into a powerful overseer of bank activities, the people said.
Gensler’s place at the helm may be taken by Amanda Renteria, until recently chief of staff of Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, who heads the influential agriculture committee that oversees the CFTC, the people say.
“I have been under the impression that Amanda’s paperwork is done,” one person at the CFTC said, referring to the background checks the White House staff perform on political appointees to government agencies.
Renteria declined to comment.
There is also an expectation that Bart Chilton, a Democratic commissioner and outspoken advocate for consumer protection, is on his way out as his term expires, marking a third departure from the agency’s five-member decision-making board.
“(There are) four or five people interested in that spot, but it’s not clear who is in the running for that and who’s actually the leader,” a second lobbyist said.
People short-listed include Dan Berkovitz, a close ally of Gensler who left his job as the CFTC’s top lawyer in March, though others said he was no longer in the running.
Chilton declined to comment. Berkovitz did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The CFTC and the White House also declined to comment.
All three positions would be subject to confirmation by the Senate. There does not immediately appear to be significant resistance from senators to Giancarlo, Berkovitz or Renteria.
The CFTC’s requirement that foreign banks comply with its rules when dealing with U.S. counterparties has invoked the wrath of regulators and politicians abroad, who say they are doing enough to regulate their own banks.
The agency is also faced with a number of lawsuits from industry groups trying to undo the new rules, arguing that the rules are harsher than mandated by the Dodd-Frank law or fail to provide a sufficient cost-benefit analysis.
Washington policy-watchers now almost unanimously assume that Renteria will head the CFTC.
“I’d be very surprised if it’s not Amanda heading (the CFTC). I don’t think Stabenow will allow anyone else,” the first lobbyist said. Stabenow’s role at the head of the agriculture committee gives her a powerful position in the Senate.
Renteria, a 38-year Stanford graduate described as “very bright and very able” by one lobbyist, oversaw the introduction of more than 60 new rules for complex derivatives during her period as a Senate staffer.
She might well be less outspoken than Gensler, who lobbyists describe as one of Wall Street’s toughest critics.
Renteria, a mother of two, spent three years at Goldman Sachs and graduated from Harvard Business School.
The U.S. overhaul of Wall Street has only started to kick in this year, and the CFTC still has to write more rules even though it is the farthest advanced in its implementation of Dodd-Frank of all the U.S. agencies.
If chosen and confirmed, Giancarlo would be the first commissioner from the swaps industry, a market dominated by investment banks, with brokers such as GFI playing an essential role as trading platforms.
Reporting by Douwe Miedema; Editing by Kenneth Barry