U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: A Roadmap for Transformational Reform

Roadmap for SEC Transformation 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 7:00pm

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In response to the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, Congress created the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Throughout much of its history, the SEC has been the preeminent financial regulator, successfully overseeing the world’s leading capital markets. However, for more than a decade, the SEC regulatory and enforcement structures have failed to keep pace with rapidly changing markets. This is attributable to a variety of factors including, but not limited to, structural and managerial inefficiencies at the SEC, rapidly evolving markets, and the rise of intense global competition. The purpose of this report and its recommendations is to restore the SEC as the world’s premier financial services regulator.

Businesses and investors alike need a modern, efficient, fair, and tough regulator. America’s ability to maintain the world’s deepest and most liquid markets hinges in part on having a strong, effective, and even-handed regulator. While outdated and broken regulations and ineffective application of regulatory authority were not the primary cause of the 2008 financial crisis, they should not be overlooked as contributory causes. The financial crisis has laid bare many of the shortcomings of an agency that is grounded in an outdated view of the world’s financial markets and is in profound need of transformational reform.

This need for transformational change supplants earlier proposals for reform. In 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released its first SEC reform report: Examining the Efficiency and Effectiveness of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (2009 Report). While the 2009 Report made 23 recommendations for reform, they were proposals for incremental change. We fully recognize that over the past few years, the current leadership of the SEC has begun to address some of the key weaknesses of the agency and positive progress has been made in some areas. However incremental change will no longer do.

This report makes constructive reform proposals that, taken together, would help to achieve the level of change needed to transform the agency. In order to achieve fundamental reform of the agency, we recommend:

  1. Developing a bold and clear plan. We provide many ideas in this report, including how to make rulemaking, supervisory inspections, and enforcement more effective.
  2. Putting someone in charge of implementing the plan. We recommend increasing the size of the Commission from five to seven members and designating a Deputy Chairman for Management and Operations among the Commissioners to lead the day-to-day implementation of this turnaround program.
  3. Removing statutory and practical obstacles to transformational reform. Fixing some of the structural weaknesses of the SEC, including the number of mandated direct reports to the Chairman, will require statutory revisions. And the Commission will need sufficient labor flexibility to make changes to ensure it has the staff with the appropriate skills to carry out its expanded and modernized responsibilities. This report recommends ensuring that the Commission has the ability to hire the right people with the right skills to regulate the 21st century capital markets, and ensure that staff are put in positions to succeed—or are removed. It also recommends changes in procedures to ensure that necessary technology improvements can be effectively developed and successfully incorporated into the agency’s core programs.
  4. Tying increased funding and resources to the transformation process. The transformation of the SEC will need to be adequately resourced. While current resources of the SEC can be used much more effectively, additional resources will also be needed. However, Congress should insist on an honest and thorough examination of core programs, followed by timely and clear progress in implementing necessary changes as a condition for expanded funding.

We believe that readers of this report will acknowledge that the level of change proposed here is overdue and that extraordinary steps are needed to achieve change. At the same time, we recognize that everyone may not agree on the specific solutions proposed in each of these recommendations. The Chamber will remain an active and constructive voice for positive change and will continue to work with all of those who share our goal of maintaining the U.S. position as the world’s preeminent, best-regulated capital market. We welcome the debate on all ideas to help achieve transformational reform.

We know this will not be easy. Some will surely criticize us for even suggesting this level of change. But we must also recognize that the status quo is no longer acceptable. A vigorous debate, followed with a rational plan of action, is needed to ensure that America’s businesses and job creators have access to capital necessary to compete in a 21st century global economy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness was established to help ensure that our nation’s capital markets are the most fair, efficient, and innovative in the world. Unquestionably, reforming the SEC is a critical component of achieving that goal.

David Hirschmann
President and CEO
Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness