Securities, commodities regulators press U.S. Congress for more funds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The heads of the U.S. agencies that regulate securities and commodities pressed a Senate committee on Tuesday to boost their budgets in the face of growing sophistication in financial markets and technology, but lawmakers gave no sign extra dollars were coming soon.

Security and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White delivers her remarks while attending the Financial Security Oversight Committee hearing at the Treasury Department in Washington November 2, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

In his proposed budget, President Barack Obama requested an 11 percent increase for the Securities and Exchange Commission, bringing its spending to $1.781 billion. He also sought a 32 percent increase for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to give the agency overseeing the $400 trillion U.S. swaps market as well as commodities trading, a $331 million budget.

The SEC offsets any taxpayer funds it receives with user fees and fines, which means its spending does not affect the federal deficit.

But Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on financial services, said that did not leave it free of oversight.

“Congress has a responsibility to ensure those funds are being spent in a manner that protects investors, helps markets operate efficiently and spurs economic growth for all Americans,” he said at Tuesday’s hearing.

He added that “access to more funding does not necessarily ensure that an agency will successfully achieve its mission or spend that funding responsibly.”

For the SEC, “additional funding is imperative if we are to continue the agency’s progress in fulfilling its responsibilities over our increasingly fast, complex and growing markets,” Chair Mary Jo White said.

It would help the SEC hire “250 staff in critical, core areas and continue to improve our information technology.”

The new staff would allow the SEC to conduct more exams, increase data analytics and improve intelligence gathering for enforcement cases, she added.

At the hearing, CFTC Chair Timothy Massad said the agency “does not have the resources necessary to adequately oversee” its markets, especially “with an industry that is changing and innovating at the speed of light and that is much larger and more complex than even just a few years ago.”

More than a third of the extra dollars requested would go toward information technology, he said.

Part of the increase, $15.5 million, would go toward enforcement because the CFTC faces “an increasing number of well-financed defendants with high-powered defense teams.”

Massad added the CFTC was working to change the levels of its fines, saying levies for many violations were “far too low.”

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Peter Cooney