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Exit sparks rising chatter over CFTC top roles

By Douwe Miedema

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is expected to soon fill two top roles at the U.S. derivatives regulator, people working closely with the agency said, to prevent a leadership vacuum from blocking crucial Wall Street reforms.

Bart Chilton, a Democratic member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, took policy watchers by surprise this week when he said he was leaving, creating a third gap among the agency's five decision makers.

Sharon Bowen, a partner at law firm Latham & Watkins in New York, is being vetted as a successor, three of the people said, and her name and that of a successor to Chairman Gary Gensler are expected to come out soon.

"I've heard that it could be later this week or next week," one of the people said, referring to both positions, and asking not to be named so as to speak more freely.

The White House declined to comment.

The changes at the top of the CFTC come as regulators are putting the finishing touches on a fundamental overhaul of investment banking after the 2007-09 financial crisis.

The CFTC, once a sleepy agency best known for overseeing wheat, soy and other agriculture futures, saw its powers vastly expanded after the credit collapse, when it was put in charge of the $630 trillion global swaps market.

Bowen, acting chair of the board of directors of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, the body that recovers funds to investors when brokerage firms go bankrupt, did not return a request for comment.

She has already been confirmed by the Senate in her role at SIPC, which might make it easier for her to go through the process if Obama nominates her at the CFTC.

A consensus that Timothy Massad - a senior official at the Treasury Department - was the most likely person to replace Gensler has grown from when his name first came out in the New York Times last month, the people said.

GENSLER STAYS LONGER

But in a new twist, Gensler will stay until January 3, 2014, a few weeks longer than first assumed, because he will use up the maximum extent of time he is allowed under the agency's rules, CFTC Commissioner Scott O'Malia said.

"I suspect the White House will nominate two people very soon," O'Malia told Reuters in an interview. "Gary says he's staying until January 3," he also said.

Gensler did not return a request for comment.

The assumption was first that Gensler would leave in the middle of December, when Congress leaves for the holidays. But he is allowed to stay on until Congress formally ends its current session, which will be on January 3.

In the remaining weeks in his job, Gensler plans to finish the Volcker rule, one of the most complex pieces of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law to overhaul Wall Street, which bans banks from betting with their own money.

He also needs to sort out how U.S. rules for complex derivative trades apply abroad, the source of a lingering conflict with Europe and other regions, as well as a range of smaller new rules to reform trading.

Massad will leave his post as assistant secretary for financial stability at the Treasury later this year, a Treasury official said last month. Massad declined to comment for this story through a spokesman.

Chris Giancarlo, a senior manager at New-York based derivatives broker GFI Group, still has to be confirmed by the Senate after Obama nominated him to fill a third, Republican, position at the CFTC.

Such appointments at federal agencies are normally guided through Congress as packages of Democrats and Republicans to prevent partisan strife.

(Reporting by Douwe Miedema Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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