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Panel Reviews SEC Budget

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House members gave Mary Schapiro, the new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, a warm welcome today at a hearing on the agency’s budget.

During the Bush administration years, SEC officials would “say, ‘We have enough,’” Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Appropriations financial services subcommittee said at the hearing. “We’d say, ‘We’re willing to give you some more.’ They were the first agency we ever met that just didn’t want more resources.”

The subcommittee will do its best to get the SEC the resources it needs to do its job, Serrano said.

Schapiro testified that she knows the SEC needs more resources and is glad to see that President Obama is requesting about $1 billion in funding for the agency in fiscal year 2010, up from $943 million this year.

Budget cuts between 2005 and 2008 caused the size of the enforcement staff to fall 10% and information technology spending to fall sharply the at a time when the number of investment advisors registered with the SEC was increasing 32%, Schapiro testified.

The SEC probably should address gaps in regulations in some areas, but, “what I think we really need is more boots on the ground,” Schapiro said.

Schapiro said the agency has only about 400 examiners to keep tabs on 11,000 registered investment advisors, meaning that many advisors know they will see an examiner only once every 10 years.

Training also has been inadequate, but the Wall Street downturn may be an opportunity for the SEC to hire former traders, financial analysts and forensic accountants, Schapiro said.

Schapiro noted in response to a question about concerns about credit rating agencies that the SEC will be holding a roundtable discussion on the topic April 15.

One topic participants will address is strategies for increasing the level of competition in the credit rating agency market, Schapiro said.

Schapiro also said the SEC is pushing the Financial Accounting Standards Board, Norwalk, Conn., “very, very hard” to release guidance on how companies should go about valuing illiquid assets in distressed markets, and she briefly talked about the concept of creating a financial “super regulator.”

“There are 50 state insurance regulators,” Schapiro said in a response to a question, and then acknowledged that there are also about a dozen agencies involved with regulating financial services at the federal level.

“We have to look at how rational this structure is,” Schapiro said. “The lines between products don’t exist any more, and people sell multiple types of products.”


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