updated 7/21/2009 7:31:47 PM ET 2009-07-21T23:31:47

Charles “Ed” Haldeman Jr., a former mutual fund executive, will take the helm of Freddie Mac next month, the mortgage finance company said Tuesday.

Three weeks ago, Haldeman, 60, stepped down as chairman of Boston-based Putnam Investments’ mutual fund unit. He replaces John Koskinen, who has been serving as Freddie Mac’s interim CEO since the March resignation of David Moffett.

Haldeman will receive an annual salary of $900,000 — the same as Moffett— plus other potential incentive payments that need to be approved by regulators.

The move comes at a critical time for Freddie Mac, which is struggling under the weight of mounting loan defaults and faces uncertainty about its future role in the mortgage industry.

Freddie Mac and sibling company Fannie Mae play a vital role in the mortgage market by purchasing loans from lenders and selling them to investors. Together, the companies own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.4 trillion. That’s about half of all U.S home mortgages.

Fearing the companies would go under, the government seized control of Fannie and Freddie last September. Since then, Freddie has tapped nearly $51 billion in government aid to cope with mounting loan defaults, while Fannie has taken about $34 billion.

Morale at Freddie Mac’s headquarters in McLean, Va., has been low, especially after the April suicide of acting chief financial officer, David Kellermann.

In an interview, Haldeman — who goes by “Ed” after his middle name, Edgar — pledged to help employees “feel proud of the company that they work for again and make sure that they know their commitment is recognized and appreciated.”

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has not detailed its plans for how Fannie and Freddie should be structured in the future.

“It’s way to early to make guesses on an exit strategy,” Haldeman said, adding that he expects a “long and thoughtful debate and discussion” on that issue.

With foreclosures continuing to surge, Fannie and Freddie’s goals have shifted over the past year. They are now playing a key role in the Obama administration’s effort to modify or refinance up to 9 million home loans.

“They effectively have been drafted into executing a variety of federal policies that are dictated from above,” said banking analyst Bert Ely, a longtime critic of Fannie and Freddie.

Haldeman was hired by Putnam in 2002 and was promoted to chief executive in November 2003, when the company was in trouble with regulators over mutual fund trading abuses.

Putnam ultimately paid more than $190 million to settle federal and state investigations, and Haldeman sought to impose a new culture and improve the funds’ performance.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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