Dozens of letters are missing from the special file of correspondence from members of Congress to savings and loan regulators. The file has become a vital source of information about the actions of lawmakers on behalf of S&Ls.
Most of the letters are written by lawmakers on behalf of constituents who complained about problems in their dealings with S&Ls.
But some letters provide evidence of members of Congress pressing regulators on behalf of S&L operators, some of whom contributed to the lawmakers' political campaigns.
S&L contributions and the role of lawmakers has become a hot issue in this election year.
There are thousands of letters, all maintained by the Office of Thrift Supervision and filed alphabetically under the names of the senators and representatives who sent them.
The thrift supervision office, the federal agency created by last year's S&L bailout legislation, keeps the letters for its own use and opens them to members of the public by appointment.
There is no supervision of people perusing the letters, which are kept in an area of the agency's Washington headquarters out of view of agency employees. There is no inspection of bags and cases of people leaving the office.
Nancy Cohen, director of congressional correspondence for the agency, said she is aware of at least one entire file that is missing. Each file contains dozens of letters written by a member of Congress arranged in chronological order.
Cohen declined to say what file is missing or who may be suspected of taking it.
"I know something's missing, and it really bothers me," she said. "I think it's real important to the agency" to make the files secure, she added, saying she has complained about the situation to high-level agency officials.
"There is a problem; we're trying to address the problem," said Robert Schmermund, director of public affairs for the agency.
Schmermund said the agency is concerned about the vulnerability of the current system but also wants to continue to give the public quick access to the files.
The agency has only one copy of each letter in the centralized archives, although individual regulators may have kept their own copies, Cohen said.
Reporters have been the most frequent users of the files, but in recent months congressional aides, political consultants and law firms also have looked at them, Cohen said.
People wishing to examine the files are asked to make an appointment and bring with them a letter making a Freedom of Information Act request for access to files of specific members of Congress.
Fraud czar is possible for S&L crisis
WASHINGTON _ Congress has passed legislation that would establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the savings and loan industry and which authorizes the naming of an S&L fraud czar, a congressional sponsor of the legislation said Sunday.
Missouri Republican Christopher Bond said the eight-member commission would investigate the causes of the savings and loan crisis, the conditions which led to fraud and abuse and reforms in regulation. The bill awaits presidential approval.
The legislation, passed late Saturday, also authorizes the Department of Justice to organize a special unit headed up by a savings and loan "fraud czar" that would coordinate investigations and prosecutions.