With Fannie Mae CEO Michael Williams on the way out, it's unclear who will step in to lead the government-sponsored enterprise. Who is chosen, and for what reason, could signal the direction of the mortgage giant, be it a strong future, or a short-lived dissolution. "That's the real question of the day," said David Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. "Depending on whom you're hiring sends a strong message about where this institution is headed, and it also sends a strong message to the employees working in that company. Williams said Tuesday "the time is right to turn over the reins to a new leader." "As I told our employees today, I am extremely proud of what we have achieved together, and I am confident that they will continue to make a positive difference," he said in a statement. The announcement didn't come as a shock to George Mason University professor Anthony Sanders, who studies the GSEs. He expected as much, particularly after Freddie Mac CEO Charles "Ed" Haldeman announced his own departure in October. "The pressure coming down on Freddie and Fannie from the (Obama) administration and Congress to do things that don't make any economic sense is enormous," Sanders said. Stevens, who served as senior vice president at Freddie, said he came to know Williams as a "very thoughtful, experienced executive." "Mike's departure in some ways is a reflection on the challenges of getting strong leadership to manage companies that are working through a very difficult financial crisis," Stevens said. Williams will step down when Fannie's board of directors selects a successor. The same goes for Haldeman, and a Freddie Mac spokesman said the search is underway for his replacement. Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Ed DeMarco said the conservator will assist the Fannie board in the CEO search. The FHFA must approve any chief executive or board member of Fannie or Freddie. Haldeman's replacement will come sometime this year, but the Freddie spokesman said he couldn't clarify any further. Both Haldeman and Williams, along with other execs, drew heat for their compensation from members of Congress, including during committee hearings. The FHFA said Wednesday it expects a substantial pay cut for the new CEOs. Stevens said the question of compensation is a balance between the political debate and the reality of what could be short-term appointments. "You have to admit the fact that top financial services talent have opportunities with other financial services firms around the globe," Stevens said. "Whether palatable or not, it's a competitive market." The next CEO could determine whether more talent leaves, Stevens said. Fannie could choose an executive with a knack for leadership and a vision for the future. Or, Stevens said, they could pick someone with accounting and controller skills to manage a strategic downsizing. He'd prefer the former. "We need less uncertainty," Stevens said. "Any uncertainty created right now that doesn't have with it a clear replacement strategy has negative outcomes for the housing recovery." Sanders, meanwhile, in a HousingWire Magazine commentary in the January issue, writes that a $250,000 annual salary is plenty for the CEO of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In general, Sanders said he believes government should stay out of private-market compensation, but the wrinkle with the GSEs is that they are in conservatorship. As for Williams' future, Stevens said that's ultimately up to him. "My guess is that after this job, he's going to want to rest," Stevens said. Write to Andrew Scoggin. Follow him on Twitter @ascoggin.