Is Ginnie Mae actually making progress in clearing its backlog of issuer applications? Answer: It all depends on who you ask.

In a recent interview with National Mortgage News, GNMA president Ted Tozer admitted that yes, it can sometimes take the agency 18 months to clear a mortgage firm’s application to issue MBS, but there are caveats involved.

“The people filling out these applications don’t know what they’re getting into,” he said. “Some of these applications come in to us and they’re incomplete. Then we turn around and ask them for more information—and we don’t hear from them for two months.” Also, sometimes applicant firms drop out of the application process entirely—without a word.

Then again, maybe the industry shouldn’t really complain all that much. When Tozer took the helm of GNMA back in early 2010 the agency had just one person working on applications. That’s not a typo: one.

Today, the agency has three full-timers vetting mortgage firms that want to issue and service GNMA bonds. In a few weeks it hopes to double that number to six. (The additional head count is courtesy of the U.S. Congress which last year voted to give the profitable agency more money to fund its operations.)

Currently, the agency has about 85 applications in the pipeline with almost all of them belonging to independent (nonbank) mortgage firms. “We’re making tremendous strides (in approvals),” Tozer said. “Sometimes we can approve an application in six to nine months, but only if that application is complete.”

Also, it appears that lenders working with a consultant that knows the ropes at GNMA have a better chance of a speedy approval. (The accounting firm of Deloitte, to some degree, vets the applications for the agency.)

Some investment bankers and advisors question the six-month number. “I’ve never heard of anyone getting an approval in six months,” said one consultant requesting his name not be used. “They’re overwhelmed.”

Tim Rood, managing partner of The Collingwood Group, said he could not comment directly on approvals, but credits the agency under Tozer for recognizing the agency has an approval problem. “They know there’s an issue,” said Rood, “and they’re resolved to fix it. And they are hiring.”

Tozer knows there’s much at stake. GNMA—in the form of FHA/VA lending—accounts for about 25% of all new originations, compared to an all-time low of about 3% during the height of the subprime boom when FHA (along with VA) appeared to have a shaky future in the mortgage insurance business.

But no more. FHA products are now the loan of choice for first-time homebuyers, especially consumers with low downpayments.

Last year roughly 35 firms received their “government Eagles” from the agency. “We hope to approve at least that many this year,” the GNMA president said. And he would like nothing more than these approved firms to begin issuing government-backed mortgage bonds, breaking the market share lock that the megabanks have on the business.

Investment bankers hope that Tozer is successful. Chuck Klein, managing partner at Mortgage Banking Solutions, Waco, Texas, said that if any firm wants to sell itself in today’s market “having the GNMA Eagle is

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