Another agency head leaves the Trump administration — and this one hasn’t even been confirmed yet

Posted at 2:01 PM, Jan 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-10 18:47:20-05

The Trump administration is losing another agency head — and this one hasn’t even been confirmed yet.

Michael Bright has been effectively running the federal mortgage backer Ginnie Mae as chief operating officer since 2017.

Bright was formally nominated to take over the post last May, but his confirmation has been bottled up in the Senate. Late Wednesday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that Bright had submitted his resignation, effective January 16.

On Thursday morning, his new job was revealed: Bright has been hired as CEO of the Structured Finance Industry Group, a trade association for businesses that work in mortgage-backed securities and other forms of debt. According to the group’s press release, Bright will “help SFIG reinforce the understanding that securitization is an essential source of core funding for the real economy.”

In leaving with only a few months on the job, Bright joins a merry-go-round of administration officials, with the White House scrambling to fill critical positions at the Departments of Justice and Defense.

Financial reform advocates said that the quick turnaround is evidence that the financial industry will have a leg up as Congress considers what to do with the government-sponsored enterprises — Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae and Freddie Mac — that have dominated the market for mortgage-backed securities since the financial crisis.

“These guys were the people behind the private securitization market that crashed in the crisis, and now they’re trying to revive it,” says Marcus Stanley, policy director of Americans for Financial Reform, a consumer advocacy non-profit. “Michael Bright is the perfect hire for them.”

It won’t be Bright’s first turn in the private sector. He worked at Countrywide and Wachovia in the run-up to the financial crisis, and then joined former Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker’s staff as an adviser on financial services issues.

After four years in Congress, he left to advise banks on conducting stress tests at BlackRock, and did a stint at a think tank before being tapped for the role at Ginnie Mae.

During his confirmation hearings, some Democrats questioned Bright over a paper he co-authored while at the finance-friendly Milken Institute that proposed separating Ginnie Mae from HUD and de-emphasized its affordable housing goals.

Bright said he no longer thought splitting off Ginnie Mae from HUD was necessary, and he got enough Democratic votes to clear the Senate Banking Committee but did not proceed further.

The revolving door has been spinning particularly fast at financial regulators. Democrats criticized the acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Keith Norieka, for serving in his post for months in 2017 without undergoing Senate confirmation; Norieka then returned to advising banks at the same law firm he had worked at before. Now, OCC chief Joseph Otting is also running the Federal Housing Finance Agency while a new nominee is vetted.

“In the Trump era, people have realized that you’re better off spending short stints running things,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project, which focuses on executive branch personnel issues. “You don’t need to get confirmed to update your Rolodex. Industry doesn’t think that Trump’s going to get re-elected, so it’s possible that your ties are going to decline in value pretty quickly.”