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  • President Trump issues new Iran Executive Order targeting Iran's metal sector; OFAC publishes related FAQs

    Financial Crimes

    On May 8, President Trump issued Executive Order 13871 (E.O. 13871) authorizing the imposition of sanctions on persons determined to operate in Iran’s iron, steel, aluminum, and copper sectors. The order is intended to target sectors of the Iranian economy that OFAC has identified as providing “funding and support for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist groups and networks, campaigns of regional aggression, and military expansion.” Among other things, E.O. 13871 authorizes the Secretaries of Treasury and State to impose sanctions on a foreign financial institution if it is determined that it has knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant financial transactions in these sectors, or for or on behalf of a blocked person. These sanctions are intend to curtail such institutions’ access to the U.S. financial system by prohibiting the opening of, or impose strict conditions on maintaining, a correspondent account or payable-through account by such foreign financial institutions in the United States.

    The same day, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a set of FAQs connected to the issuance of E.O. 13871, including a discussion of the relevant 90-day wind-down period for affected transactions as well as sanction exceptions.

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons Iran Executive Order Trump

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  • FHFA director Calabria stresses urgency in housing finance reform

    Federal Issues

    On April 15, Mark Calabria was sworn in as the new Director of the FHFA and stressed the importance of mortgage finance reform in his first remarks in the role. Calabria warned that the current mortgage finance system remains “vulnerable,” noting that “[a]fter years of strong house price growth, too many remain locked out of housing, while others are dangerously leveraged. We must not let this opportunity for reform pass.” Calabria also acknowledged the March memo released by the White House, outlining the Administration’s plan for federal housing finance reform (covered by InfoBytes here) which, among other things, directs the Secretary of the Treasury to develop a plan to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Calabria stated that he looks forward to working with the Administration on such reforms.

    Federal Issues FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac GSE Mortgages Housing Finance Reform Trump

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  • White House calls for end to GSE conservatorships; Senate holds housing finance hearings

    Federal Issues

    On March 27, the White House released a Memorandum on Federal Housing Finance Reform, which directs the Secretary of the Treasury to develop a plan to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Specifically, the memo states that the U.S. housing finance system is “in urgent need of reform,” as taxpayers are “potentially exposed to future bailouts” and programs at HUD have outdated operations and are “potentially overexposed to risk.” The President directs the Treasury and HUD to create specific plans addressing a number of reforms “as soon as practical.” Among other things, the directives include:

    • Treasury to reform GSEs. With the ultimate goal of ending the conservatorships, the memo directs Treasury to develop proposals to, among other things, (i) preserve access to 30 year fix-rate mortgages for qualified homebuyers; (ii) establish appropriate capital and liquidity requirements for the GSEs; (iii) increase private sector participation in the mortgage market; (iv) evaluate the “QM Patch” with the HUD Secretary and CFPB Director; and (v) set conditions necessary to end conservatorships.
    • HUD to reform programs. In addition to outlining specific objectives, the memo directs HUD to achieve three goals: (i) ensure that the FHA and the Government National Mortgage Association (GNMA) assume the primary responsibility for providing housing finance support for low income or underserved families; (ii) improve risk management, program, and product design to reduce taxpayer exposure; and (iii) modernize the operations of the FHA and GNMA.

    Similarly, on March 26 and 27, the Senate Banking Committee held a two-part hearing (here and here) on housing finance reform. The hearing reviewed the legislative plan released by Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) in February. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plan would, among other things, end the GSEs conservatorships, make the GSEs private guarantors, and allow other nonbank private guarantors to enter the market. Additionally, the plan would (i) restructure FHFA as a bipartisan board of directors, which would charter, regulate, and supervise all private guarantors; (ii) place a percentage cap on all outstanding mortgages for guarantors; and (iii) replace current housing goals and duty-to-serve requirements with a fund intended to address housing needs of underserved communities. In his opening statement at the hearing, Crapo said that, “approximately 70 percent of all mortgages originated in this country are in some way touched by the federal government” and “the status quo is not a viable option” for the housing finance market. Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) emphasized that “any changes we consider must strengthen, not weaken, our ability to address the housing challenges facing our nation and make the housing market work better for families.”

    Over the two days, the Senators and witnesses discussed the positive objectives of Crapo’s plan while recognizing hurdles that exist in implementing housing finance reform. While many Senators and witnesses expressed support for a requirement that private guarantors serve a national market, others suggested that regionalized or specialized guarantors could have advantages, including reaching underserved markets. Many Democrats stressed the importance of keeping a catastrophic government guarantee in place, while Republicans emphasized the need for legislative reforms to be implemented as soon as possible. With respect to equal access for small lenders, Senators discussed the concern over credit unions being able to sell loans in a multiple guarantor market.

    Federal Issues White House Trump Housing Finance Reform GSE Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Affordable Housing FHA HUD Mortgages U.S. Senate Senate Banking Committee

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  • White House releases 2020 budget proposal; key areas include appropriations and efforts to combat terrorist financing

    Federal Issues

    On March 11, the White House released its fiscal 2020 budget request, A Budget for a Better America. The budget was accompanied by texts entitled Major Savings and Reforms (MSR), which “contains detailed information on major savings and reform proposals”; Analytical Perspectives, which “contains analyses that are designed to highlight specified subject areas or provide other significant presentations of budget data that place the budget in perspective”; and an Appendix containing detailed supporting information. Funding through appropriations and efforts to combat terrorist financing remain key highlights carried over from last year. Notable takeaways of the 2020 budget proposal are as follows:

    CFPB. In the MSR’s “Restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” section, the budget revives a call to restructure the Bureau, and proposes legislative action to implement a two-year restructuring period, subject the CFPB to the congressional appropriations process starting in 2021, and “bring accountability” to the Bureau. Among other things, the proposed budget would cap the Federal Reserve’s transfers to the Bureau at $485 million in 2020.

    Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). The 2020 budget proposal requests that Congress establish funding levels through annual appropriations bills for FSOC (which is comprised of the heads of the financial regulatory agencies and monitors risk to the U.S. financial system) and its independent research arm, the Office of Financial Research (OFR). Currently FSOC and OFR set their own budgets.

    Flood Insurance. The Credit and Insurance chapter of the budget’s Analytical Perspectives section discusses FEMA initiatives such as modifying the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to become a simpler, more customer-focused program, and “doubling the number of properties covered by flood insurance (either the NFIP or private insurance) by 2022.” Separately, the budget proposal emphasizes that the administration believes that “flood insurance rates should reflect the risk homeowners face by living in flood zones.”

    Government Sponsored Enterprises. Noted within the MSR, the budget proposes doubling the guarantee fee charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to loan originators from 0.10 to 0.20 percentage points from 2020 through 2021. The proposal is designed to help “level the playing field for private lenders seeking to compete with the GSEs” and would generate an additional $32 billion over the 10-year budget window. 

    HUD. The budget proposes to eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, stating that “[s]tate and local governments are better equipped to address local community and economic development needs.” The proposal would continue to preserve access to homeownership opportunities for creditworthy borrowers through FHA and Ginnie Mae credit guarantees. The budget also requests $20 million above last year’s estimated level to help modernize FHA’s information technology systems and includes legislative proposals to “align FHA authorities with the needs of its lender enforcement program and limit FHA’s exposure to down-payment assistance practices.”

    SEC. As stated in both the budget proposal and the MSR, the budget again proposes to eliminate the SEC’s mandatory reserve fund and would require the SEC to request additional funds through the congressional appropriations process starting in 2021. According to the Appendix, the reserve fund is currently funded by collected registration fees and is not subject to appropriation or apportionment. Under the proposed budget, the registration fees would be deposited in the Treasury’s general fund.

    SIGTARP. As proposed in the MSR, the budget revives a plan that would reduce funding for the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) “commensurate with the wind-down of TARP programs.” According to the MSR, “Congress aligned the sunset of SIGTARP with the length of time that TARP funds or commitments are outstanding,” which, Treasury estimates, will be through 2023. The reduction reflects, among other things, that less than one percent of TARP investments remain outstanding.  This will mark the final time payments are expected to be made under the Home Affordable Modification Program.

    Student Loan Reform. As with the 2019 budget proposal, the 2020 proposed budget seeks to establish a single income-driven repayment plan that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of discretionary income. Furthermore, balances would be forgiven after a specific number of repayment years—15 for undergraduate debt, 30 for graduate. In doing so, the proposal would eliminate subsidized loans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, auto-enroll “severely delinquent borrowers,” and create a process for borrowers to share income data for multiple years. With certain exceptions, these proposals will only apply to loans originated on or after July 1, 2020.

    Treasury Department. The budget states that combating terrorist financing, proliferation financing, and other types of illicit financing are a top priority for the administration, and $167 million has been requested for Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence to “continue its work safeguarding the financial system from abuse and combating other national security threats using economic tools.” The proposed budget also requests $125 million for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to administer the Bank Secrecy Act and its work to prevent the financing of terrorism, money laundering, and other financial crimes. An additional $18 million was proposed for strengthening and protecting Treasury’s IT systems.

    Federal Issues Trump Budget CFPB FSOC Flood Insurance National Flood Insurance Program GSE HUD SEC Student Lending Department of Treasury Bank Secrecy Act FinCEN

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  • OFAC announces sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company

    Financial Crimes

    On January 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA. As a result, all assets belonging to the company subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons generally are prohibited from dealing with the company. However, OFAC concurrently issued a number of licenses in order to authorize certain transactions with the company and its subsidiaries, including those necessary to wind down operations or existing contracts.

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of Venezuela actions and E.O.s.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Venezuela Trump Executive Order Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • President Trump issues new Venezuela Executive Order targeting gold sector; OFAC publishes related FAQs

    Financial Crimes

    On November 1, President Trump issued Executive Order 13850 (E.O. 13850) authorizing the imposition of sanctions on persons who operate in Venezuela's gold sector “or in any other sector of the Venezuelan economy as may be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State.” The sanctions come in response to the actions of Venezuelan President Maduro’s regime and associated persons in allegedly “plunder[ing] Venezuela's wealth for their own corrupt purposes.” Among other things, the sanctions specifically block the acquisition or retention of property and interests in the United States by persons who “operate in the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy” or “have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, any activity or transaction” involving deceptive practices or corruption in conjunction with the Venezuelan government.

    The same day, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a set of FAQs connected to the issuance of E.O. 13850, stating that it “expects to use its discretion to target in particular those who operate corruptly in the gold or other identified sectors of the Venezuela economy, and not those who are operating legitimately in such sectors.”

    E.O. 13850 is issued in conjunction with E.O.s 13692, 13808, 13827, and 13835. See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of Venezuelan actions and E.O.s.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Executive Order Venezuela Sanctions Trump Department of Treasury

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  • President Trump issues Executive Order authorizing sanctions in the event of foreign interference in U.S. elections

    Financial Crimes

    On September 12, President Trump announced the issuance of Executive Order 13848 (E.O.), which authorizes sanctions against foreign persons found to have engaged in, assisted, or otherwise supported foreign interference in U.S. elections. Should an intelligence assessment determine such activity has occurred, Section 2 of the E.O. requires that transactions in property and interests of such interfering persons that are in the U.S. or under control of a U.S. person be blocked, and Section 3 of the E.O. directs the Secretaries of State and Treasury—in consultation with the heads of other appropriate agencies—to recommend to the President additional sanctions against “the largest business entities licensed or domiciled in a country whose government authorized, directed, sponsored, or supported election interference, including at least one entity from each of the following sectors: financial services, defense, energy, technology, and transportation.” Such additional sanctions may include, with respect to the targeted entities, (i) blocking all transactions related to property and interests subject to U.S. jurisdiction; (ii) prohibitions on U.S. financial institutions making loans or extending credit to identified entities; (iii) prohibitions on transfers of credit or payments between, by, or through financial institutions for the benefit of such an entity; and (iv) prohibitions on U.S. persons investing in equity or debt of such entities.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Executive Order Trump

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  • President Trump issues Iran-related executive order reimposing previously lifted sanctions; OFAC updates Iran-related FAQs

    Financial Crimes

    On August 6, President Trump announced the issuance of Iran-related Executive Order 13846 (E.O. 13846), which reimposes nuclear-related sanctions that were lifted in connection with the United States’ participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) of July 14, 2015. As previously covered in InfoBytes, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the JCPA on May 8. Newly issued E.O. 13846 reimposes certain sanctions, effective August 7, concerning persons—including foreign financial institutions—who facilitate or provide “financial, material, or technological support for” areas including Iran’s trade in U.S. bank notes and precious metals, its automotive sector, and its currency. Sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector, as well as transactions between foreign financial institutions and the Central Bank of Iran, will resume effective November 5. E.O. 13846 also revokes and supersedes several previously issued E.O.s.

    In response to E.O. 13846, OFAC released updates to its FAQs concerning the additional sanctions, along with amendments to existing FAQs concerning the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012. FAQs related to revoked E.O. 13622, Section 4 of E.O. 13628, and E.O. 13645 have been archived.

    See here for previous InfoBytes coverage on Iranian sanctions.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC Iran Sanctions Trump

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  • President Trump signs National Flood Insurance Program extension

    Federal Issues

    On July 31, President Trump signed the “National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Extension Act of 2018” into law (see Public Law 115-225/S. 1182). The NFIP was set to expire that day. The short-term extension, which the Senate passed earlier that day, reauthorizes the NFIP through November 30, and provides Congress additional time to establish a long-term financial solution.

    Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage on the NFIP.

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  • Trump issues Executive Order removing ALJs from competitive service

    Federal Issues

    On July 10, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) excepting Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) from the federal government’s competitive hiring service. The EO is in response to the recent Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC, which held that ALJs are “inferior officers” subject to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The EO allows federal agencies to hire ALJs without going through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) competitive selection process, which will give agencies the ability to select candidates who meet the agency’s specific needs— providing greater “flexibility and responsibility for ALJ appointments,” according to the White House announcement. The announcement emphasizes that the EO “reduces the legal uncertainty” over new ALJ appointments under the Appointments Clause in order to safeguard agencies’ enforcement of federal laws.

    Federal Issues ALJ U.S. Supreme Court SEC Trump Executive Order

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