Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
by Chairman Mary Schapiro
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
March 17, 2010
Chairman Serrano, Ranking Member Emerson, Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of the President's FY 2011 budget request for the Securities and Exchange Commission. I am grateful for the support that you and this Subcommittee have provided to the Commission. I welcome this opportunity to answer your questions and provide you with additional information on how the SEC would make effective use of the $1.258 billion that the President has requested for the coming fiscal year.
When I testified before this Subcommittee a year ago, we were just emerging from an economic crisis that threatened our financial system and the entire American economy. The markets were still trying to regain a firm footing, and confidence in the institutions of government generally-and the SEC specifically-was badly shaken.
Over the past year, we have taken significant steps to make the SEC more vigilant, sharp, and responsive-and focus the agency squarely on its mission to protect investors, maintain orderly markets, and facilitate capital formation. We brought in new leaders across the agency. We streamlined our procedures. We worked to reform the ways we operate. We began modernizing our systems. We set out to regulate more effectively. We fully engaged in the debate on regulatory reform, and we initiated one of the most significant investor-focused rulemaking agendas in decades.
While we made real progress over the past year, restoring investor confidence and rebuilding the trustworthiness of financial institutions and markets will require a sustained regulatory commitment. FY 2011 will be a critical year in our continuing efforts to reinvigorate the Commission and its programs.
My testimony will provide an overview of the actions and initiatives that we began over the past year, thanks to the support that this Subcommittee has provided. I will then discuss the President's FY 2011 request and the important work which these resources would make possible.
New Leadership, Organizational Structures, and Expertise
Without a doubt, the most critical element to our success in improving the Commission's operations is the agency's talented and capable staff. During the past year, I am pleased to have been able to bring on board new senior managers who are playing a vital role in our efforts to transform the agency.
We brought in new leadership to run the agency's four largest operating units-the Division of Enforcement, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations ("OCIE"), the Division of Corporation Finance, and the Division of Trading and Markets. We also selected a new General Counsel, Chief Accountant, head of the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, and directors for the New York, Miami, and Atlanta regional offices. The efforts of these new senior managers, together with the efforts of the other office heads, are already making the SEC a more agile, responsive and intelligent agency.
This new leadership team is committed to a culture of collaboration-sharing information and sharing ideas. To encourage that culture, I established several cross-functional teams to focus on issues such as target date funds, life settlements and the development of a consolidated audit trail. We have begun integrating our broker-dealer and investment adviser examinations and are moving to consolidate our multi-office oversight of clearing agencies.
Significantly, we've created and staffed a new division - the Division of Risk, Strategy, and Financial Innovation - to bore through the silos that for too long have compartmentalized and limited the impact of our institutional expertise. A principal lesson learned from the financial crisis is that, because today's financial markets and their participants are dynamic, fast-moving, and innovative, the regulators who oversee them must continue to improve their knowledge and skills in order to regulate effectively. The Division of Risk, Strategy, and Financial Innovation will re-focus the agency's attention on and response to new products, trading practices, and risks. Already, this new Division has attracted renowned experts in the financial, economic, and legal implications of the financial innovations being crafted on Wall Street.
In addition, we are working to establish a deeper reservoir of experts throughout the agency to conduct risk analysis, spot emerging trends and practices, and reduce the likelihood that a problem might grow into a more potent risk.
We also are committed to improved training and education of agency staff in order to close competency gaps and expand knowledge of industry activities and trends. Training needs to be current, continuous, and mandatory — and it needs to equip the SEC's workforce with the tools they need to enforce the federal securities laws and protect investors.
Last year, we launched an effort to ensure that employees throughout the agency receive timely and relevant training which will allow them to fulfill the agency's mission. This agency-wide initiative includes a new integrated structure to identify training needs and to approve professional education and leadership development programs. The new training initiative also seeks to improve collaboration with other regulators and has enabled hundreds of employees to take advantage of external professional certification programs.
Reinvigorating the Enforcement Program
Enforcement of the securities laws is the foundation of the SEC's mission. Swift and vigorous prosecution of those who have broken the law is at the heart of the agency's efforts to restore investor confidence. But in recent years, the SEC's enforcement program had suffered under a variety of procedural, structural, and budgetary constraints.
Over the past year, we've significantly improved our law enforcement capabilities. We sent a clear signal to our staff that we value toughness and speed by removing procedural roadblocks impeding their investigations. For example, we delegated to senior staff the authority to issue subpoenas, so investigations can be launched without the prior - and time-consuming - approval of the Commission. We also abolished the requirement that staff obtain Commission approval before entering into settlement talks involving civil monetary penalties against public issuers.
We added a host of measures to encourage corporate insiders and others to come forward with evidence of wrongdoing. These new cooperation initiatives establish incentives for individuals and companies to fully and truthfully cooperate and assist with SEC investigations and enforcement actions, and they provide new tools to help investigators develop first-hand evidence to build the strongest possible cases as quickly as possible.
Last year, I hired as the Director of the Enforcement Division, Robert Khuzami, a longtime federal prosecutor who had served as Chief of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Under his leadership, we are undertaking the most significant structural reforms of the enforcement program since 1972 - reforms designed to maximize resources and enable us to move swiftly and vigorously against securities fraud. Highlights of the initiatives currently being implemented include:
- Specialization. The Division has created five new national specialized investigative groups which will be dedicated to high-priority areas of enforcement, including Asset Management (including hedge funds and investment advisers), Market Abuse (large-scale insider trading and market manipulation), Structured and New Products (including various derivative products), Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, and Municipal Securities and Public Pensions. The specialized units will utilize enhanced training, specialized industry experience and skills, and targeted investigative approaches to better detect links and patterns suggesting wrongdoing — and ultimately to conduct more efficient and effective investigations.
- Management Restructuring. The Division has adopted a flatter, more streamlined organizational structure under which it has reallocated a number of staff who were first line managers to the mission-critical work of conducting front-line investigations. While a layer of management has been eliminated, the Division is maintaining staff to manager ratios that will allow for close substantive consultation and collaboration, resulting in a management structure that facilitates timeliness, quality, and staff development. The Division also has hired its first-ever Managing Executive, who is focusing on the Division's administrative, operational, and infrastructure functions. These tasks previously were handled on an ad hoc basis by investigative personnel and were an inefficient drain on investigative resources.
- Office of Market Intelligence. The Enforcement Division has established an Office of Market Intelligence, which will serve as a central office for the handling of complaints, tips, and referrals that come to the attention of the Division; coordinate the Division's risk assessment activities; and support the Division's strategic planning activities. In short, this office will allow the Division to have a unified, coherent, coordinated response to the huge volume of complaints, tips, and referrals we receive every day, thereby enhancing the Division's ability to open the right investigations, bring solid cases, and effectively protect investors.
In my first 12 months, compared to the previous year, the SECs enforcement activity increased significantly. We sought more than twice as many temporary restraining orders and asset freezes; we issued well over twice as many formal orders of investigation; we won $540 million more in disgorgement orders while penalty orders more than doubled; and we filed nearly 10 percent more actions overall, including nearly twice as many involving Ponzi schemes.
Of course, numbers alone don't capture the complexity and range — or the importance — of the actions we brought. For example, we have brought a number of cases involving issues regarding the subprime mortgage market and in other areas which played important roles in the recent economic crisis. Significant cases include:
- Mortgage-related actions involving American Home, Countrywide, and New Century.
- Charging Boston-based State Street Bank and Trust Company with misleading investors about their exposure to subprime investments while selectively disclosing more complete information only to certain favored investors. As a result of this one action, more than $300 million will be distributed to investors who lost money during the subprime market meltdown.
- Charging Brookstreet Securities and ten brokers with misrepresenting that complex collateralized mortgage obligations were appropriate investments for retail customers seeking safe and secure financial products.
- Charging the investment adviser for the Reserve Primary Fund with failing to properly disclose to investors and trustees material facts relating to the value of the fund's investments in Lehman-backed paper. We also charged the adviser with misrepresenting that it would provide the credit support necessary to protect the $1 net asset value of the Primary Fund when, in fact, the adviser had no such intention. In bringing the enforcement action, the SEC also sought to expedite the distribution of the fund's remaining assets to investors by proposing a pro-rata distribution plan, which the Court has approved. As of late January, investors have been provided with recovery of more than 98 cents on the dollar.
In addition to the significant cases we have brought arising out of the financial crisis, we have continued to bring cases in many other important areas.
- In the municipal securities arena, we recently settled fraud charges with J.P. Morgan Securities for its role in an unlawful pay-to-play scheme in Jefferson County, Alabama. J.P. Morgan paid $50 million directly to Jefferson County, forfeited more than $647 million in claimed termination fees, and paid a penalty of $25 million. At the same time, the SEC also charged two of J.P. Morgan's former managing directors with fraud arising out of this scheme and had previously charged others, including the former Birmingham mayor - who just last week was sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $360,000 — a JP Morgan banker, and the local operative who served as go-between.
- In the area of accounting and financial fraud, auditor Ernst & Young LLP recently paid an $8.5 million settlement — one of the largest ever paid by an accounting firm — and six current and former partners were sanctioned for abdicating their responsibility to function as gatekeepers while their audit client, Bally Total Fitness Holding Corporation, engaged in fraudulent accounting.
Finally, in the Galleon and Cutillo cases, we charged more than a dozen hedge fund managers, lawyers and investment professionals in two overlapping serial insider trading rings that collectively constitute one of the largest insider trading prosecutions in Commission history. In the parallel criminal prosecutions, ten individuals have already pled guilty and nine additional individuals have been indicted.
Strengthening Examinations and Oversight
Strong regulation is essential to the fair, orderly, and efficient operation of markets. A vigorous examination program can not only reduce the opportunities for wrongdoing and fraud, but also provide early warning about emerging trends and potential weaknesses in compliance programs. Over the past year, we have begun reforming the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations in response to ever-changing Wall Street practices and lessons learned from the Madoff fraud.
- We are placing greater reliance on risk assessment procedures and techniques to better identify areas of risk to investors.
- We now require examiners to routinely verify the existence of client assets with third party custodians, counterparties, and customers. Additional efforts are being developed to ensure compliance with the Commission's new rules to strengthen custody controls of an investment adviser's client assets.
- We are more rigorously reviewing information about firms before sending examiners out to the field, so that we can use our limited resources more effectively and to target those firms with the greatest risks.
- We have enhanced the training of examiners and re-focused on basics such as exam planning, tracking, and accountability.
We also plan to make significantly greater progress during the current fiscal year under the leadership of our new OCIE director, Carlo di Florio, who has recently joined the agency. At my request, he is undertaking a top-to-bottom assessment of the Office's operations to determine where additional opportunities exist to strengthen our exam program. As I will discuss later, there is such a huge disparity between the number of examiners and the number of entities that we must examine that we must ensure that we are using our limited resources wisely.
Improving Agency Systems and Management
A key priority for me as Chairman is to ensure that our staff has the tools they need to conduct oversight of vast financial markets. Between FY 2005 and FY 2009, investments in new information technology systems dropped by more than half, resulting in a growing gap between our mission and the ability of our systems to help us accomplish it. Thanks to the resources provided by this Subcommittee, this fiscal year we have been able to begin investing in several new or improved IT projects and systems.
One of the first initiatives I launched was a strategic review of the agency's systems for reviewing complaints, tips, and investigative leads provided by whistleblowers or other sources. Having an effective process to identify the most important tips can give the agency an early jump on frauds and other violations of securities laws, help guide compliance exams, and provide important information across the agency to aid staff working to protect investors and maintain market integrity.
We just completed the first phase of our effort, which was centralizing into a single, searchable database our existing tips and complaints that were previously in multiple databases. This means that complaints we receive in Chicago are now downloaded into the same database as complaints received in Miami or any of our other offices, and the information investors share with our investor assistance hotline can be searched alongside complaints received by our markets hotline in our Division of Trading and Markets. Additionally, this week, we released for the first time a set of agency-wide policies and procedures to govern how employees should handle the tips they receive.
Simultaneously, we have been working on a new intake system that will allow us to capture more information about tips and complaints. The new system will provide more robust search capabilities so that tips can be better assessed or triaged. In addition, this new system will add enhanced workflow abilities so we can track how tips and complaints are being used throughout the agency. We expect to deploy this system later this year. Meanwhile, we also are in the early stages of designing the third phase of this system, which will add risk analytics tools to help us quickly and efficiently identify high value tips and search for trends and patterns across the data.
In addition, we are enhancing the collection, internal analysis, and subsequent distribution of disclosures filed with the SEC, so that this unique set of data can be aggregated both across firms and over time — allowing us to monitor macro trends, search for hidden risks, and track systemic changes in filings.
During my first year, I also focused much attention on improving the agency's basic internal operations - the processes that guide our work, support the agency's infrastructure, and determine how we are organized. The public appropriately holds the SEC to a very high standard for integrity and professionalism, and we must hold ourselves to that very high standard as well. In the past year, we took major steps to implement a compliance program to guard against inappropriate securities trading by SEC staff. We have acquired and deployed a computer compliance system to track, audit, and oversee employee securities trading and financial disclosures in real time, and are hiring new staff to oversee compliance efforts. We are also strengthening internal rules governing employee securities trading and, in May 2009, we submitted proposed rules to the Office of Government Ethics ("OGE") that would prohibit staff from trading in the securities of companies under SEC investigation — regardless of whether an employee has personal knowledge of the investigation - and require the preclearance of all trades.
Also during the past year we hired a new Chief Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer and have undertaken a comprehensive overhaul aimed at strengthening our FOIA program and our commitment to open government.
I have approved a new internal audit follow-up rule that sets forth roles, responsibilities, and procedures to ensure that SEC staff take timely and appropriate corrective action to address recommendations by the Government Accountability Office or the SEC's Office of Inspector General.
In addition, as a result of the weaknesses in controls over financial reporting as determined by our auditors, the agency is undertaking significant efforts to automate processes that have been performed manually, in a manner that is fully integrated with our core financial system.
Engaging in a Significant Investor-Focused Rulemaking Agenda
Of course, the changes we have initiated have not just been internal. The past year has witnessed one of the Commission's most significant rulemaking agendas in years. Here are some highlights:
- Custody controls: We adopted a rule in the wake of the Madoff fraud that will provide greater protections to investors who entrust their assets to investment advisers. The rule leverages our own resources by relying on independent, third-party accountants serving as a "second set of eyes" to confirm client assets and review custody controls in situations where the possibility for misappropriation of client assets is most acute because of the adviser's possession of, or control over, client assets.
- Proxy enhancements: We adopted rules that require companies to provide investors with more meaningful information about the leadership structure of boards, the qualifications of board nominees and the relationship between a company's overall compensation policies and risk taking.
- Discretionary voting by brokers for directors: We approved a New York Stock Exchange rule to eliminate broker discretionary voting for all elections of directors, whether contested or not. This helps to ensure that investors with an economic interest in the company vote on the election of directors.
- Short selling/Fails-to-deliver: We adopted a rule that will restrict short selling when a stock is experiencing significant downward price pressure. This rule will also enable long sellers to stand in the front of the line and sell their shares before any short sellers once a circuit breaker is triggered. In addition, we addressed the potentially harmful effects of abusive "naked" short selling, adopting rules that require that fails-to-deliver resulting from short sales be closed out immediately after they occur. Since this rule was adopted, the number of failures to deliver securities has dropped significantly.
- Money market funds: We adopted new rules that will help avoid a recurrence of the serious problems exposed in 2008, when the Reserve Primary Fund "broke the buck." The rules will strengthen the oversight and resiliency of these funds by, among other things, increasing credit quality, improving liquidity, shortening maturity limits, and requiring stress testing of money market fund portfolios and the disclosure of the funds' actual "mark-to-market" net asset value.
- Central Clearing of Credit Default Swaps: We took action to address counterparty risk and improve transparency in the multi-trillion dollar credit default swap market by approving conditional exemptions that allowed certain clearinghouses to operate as a central counterparty for clearing credit default swaps.
- Credit Rating Agencies: We adopted rules, and proposed others, to create a stronger, more robust regulatory framework for credit rating agencies-including measures designed to improve the quality of ratings by requiring greater disclosure, fostering competition, addressing conflicts of interest, shedding light on the practice of rating "shopping," and promoting accountability.
- Proxy access: We proposed rules to facilitate the effective exercise of the rights of shareholders to nominate directors to the boards of the companies they own. If adopted, this rule would increase shareholders' ability to hold boards accountable.
- Flash orders: We proposed rules that would effectively prohibit all markets from displaying marketable flash orders.
- Sponsored Access: We proposed a new rule that would effectively prohibit broker-dealers from providing customers with "unfiltered" or "naked" access to an exchange or ATS.
- Dark pools: We proposed rules to generally require that information about an investor's interest in buying or selling a stock be made publicly available, instead of available only to a select group operating within a dark pool.
- Pay to Play: We proposed rules to address "pay to play" practices where investment advisers are managing or seeking to manage public monies that fund state and local pension plans and other important public programs.
Our aggressive rulemaking agenda makes it clear that the Commission is now willing to address challenging issues and make tough choices.
The financial crisis reminded us just how large, complex, and critical to our economy the securities markets have become. Over the last 20 years, the dollar value of the average daily trading volume in stocks, exchange-traded options, and security futures has grown by over 25 times, reaching approximately $245 billion a day. The number and size of market participants have grown as well. For example, since 2003, the number of registered investment advisers has increased by 49 percent, and their assets under management have jumped by over 57 percent, to $33 trillion.
Yet, while the markets were growing exponentially in size and complexity, the SEC was getting smaller and its technology was falling further behind. We are only just now returning to the staffing levels of five years ago. As you know, between FY 2005 and FY 2007, the agency experienced three years of flat or declining budgets, losing 10 percent of its employees, which severely hampered our enforcement and examination programs. In the context of rapidly expanding markets, limited SEC staffing levels hindered the agency's ability to effectively oversee the markets and pursue violations of the securities laws.
Fortunately, thanks to support from the members of this Subcommittee, we have begun to rebuild our workforce and to invest in needed new technologies. Yet, the SEC is still responsible for overseeing more than 35,000 entities with just over 3,800 professionals. Additional resources are essential if we hope to make the SEC a dynamic and effective regulator of our financial markets.
The President is requesting a total of $1.258 billion for the agency in FY 2011, a 12 percent increase over the FY 2010 funding level. If enacted, this request would permit us to hire an additional 374 professionals, a 10 percent increase over FY 2010. That would bring the total number of staff to just over 4,200. The request also will permit us to continue expanding our investments in surveillance, risk analysis, and other technology, as well as in better training for SEC staff.
Of this total request, $24 million would be contingent upon the enactment of financial reform-so that if reform is passed, we would have the resources to begin implementing our enhanced authorities.
It is important to note that the proposed increase in spending would be fully offset by the fees we collect on transactions and registrations. In FY 2011, we estimate that we will collect $1.7 billion-an increase of $220 million over FY 2010.
Let me spend just a little time breaking out the numbers across the agency:
In the Enforcement Division, the budget request would enable us to add 130 new professionals so we can reinforce our investigations process, support more cases, and strengthen the intelligence analysis function. With these new staff resources - along with the Division restructuring and initiatives outlined above that will make the Division more efficient and effective - the Division projects that we will be able to open 75 additional inquiries, conduct 130 additional formal investigations, and file charges in 70 additional civil or administrative cases.
In addition to fully staffing the new Office of Market Intelligence and its critical risk assessment and strategic planning functions, we plan to use additional Enforcement Division resources in the following ways:
- Hire Individuals with Specialized Industry Experience: One of the SEC's priorities is to seek persons with specialized financial industry experience. We intend to hire enforcement staff with specialized expertise in financial products, including structured products and hedge funds, trading strategies, risk, and financial analysis. Building upon the existing strengths of the Division, specialists will increase the Division's depth of understanding of the patterns, links, trends, and motives of wrongdoers. Moreover, the specialists can utilize their unique experience to more quickly target, analyze, and bring to light unlawful activities.
- Hire Additional Trial Attorneys: It is essential that the SEC be able to act decisively on its growing caseload and that the Division have the resources to present effective cases at trial and to negotiate potential settlements from a position of strength. We intend to hire additional experienced trial counsel, not only to enable the Division to carry a caseload that includes increasingly complex cases, but also to allow the SEC and the Division to demand tough but appropriate sanctions with the confidence that we have the resources to litigate if necessary. It is critical that the Division convey to defendants that we are prepared to go to trial and to win. With our increased case load, our trial unit needs to expand to ensure that we are able to maintain a program of rigorous enforcement for the protection of investors.
- Increase Administrative Staff: Division lawyers spend too much time on tasks more efficiently handled by support and paraprofessional staff. We can leverage our resources by transferring document management, case filings, and other administrative tasks to support staff with the appropriate expertise, thereby freeing up our attorneys to tackle critical front-line work of investigating cases, bringing enforcement actions and allowing all levels of the staff to leverage their specialized knowledge.
- Train Strategically: It is critical that the Division invest in employee development to prepare its staff to respond to continuing changes in the securities industry, sophisticated new products and novel trading strategies. In addition, the Division needs to ensure that all staff have access to training to improve on the competencies and skills required for their jobs and to maximize individual potential.
- Information Technology: Information technology is also a priority for the Division. We are spending significant resources on a number of ongoing projects — improving the Division's case management system, managing ever-increasing amounts of electronic evidence with sophisticated new tools, and establishing a more centralized system for reviewing and analyzing tips, complaints, and referrals. We intend to commit whatever resources are necessary and available to ensure a timely conclusion to these upgrades. We also anticipate major future projects, including a new state-of-the-art IT Forensics Lab, enhanced data and trading analytics, and improved document and knowledge management to further enhance efficiency and consistency across the Division.
In our Examinations unit, the budget request would allow us to add 70 staff to help us begin closing the gap between the number of examiners and the growing number of registered firms we oversee. With these new resources, OCIE expects to be able to expand the scope and coverage of examinations, conducting an additional 50 investment adviser exams and 25 mutual fund exams. We also anticipate using these resources to fully staff the oversight function for credit rating agencies, allowing us to examine half of them in FY 2011. If the financial regulatory reform legislation now under consideration requires hedge fund advisors to register, we will begin to build an inspection program.
It is important to note, however, that even with an increase in the number of exams these additional resources will enable us to conduct, we anticipate examining only nine percent of SEC registered investment advisers and 17 percent of investment company complexes in FY2011.
In the newly created Division of Risk, Strategy, and Financial Innovation, the budget request would enable us to add 20 new professionals. The new staff positions would allow the Division to establish a deeper reservoir of experts who can conduct risk and economic analysis and spot emerging trends and practices in support of rulemaking and enforcement activities. We anticipate hiring professionals with significant knowledge and expertise in financial markets and products, including economists, academics, lawyers, and financial market professionals.
Among the other divisions, the budget request would permit us to add almost 50 positions to the Divisions of Investment Management and Trading and Markets. These positions will help us enhance oversight of money market funds, clearing agencies, broker-dealers, credit rating agencies, and, if brought under the agency's jurisdiction, hedge fund advisers and OTC derivatives. The Division of Corporation Finance would add 25 professionals to allow it to focus more, and with greater frequency, on the financial statements and other disclosures of large and financially significant companies.
Finally, the FY 2011 budget request proposes to spend an additional $12 million on information technology investments, focused on several key projects. Our top priority, as I described earlier, will be the third phase of our new system for analyzing tips, complaints and referrals.
We also intend to continue our efforts to build a suite of surveillance and risk analysis tools that will substantially improve the agency's ability to find connections, patterns, or trends in the data we collect. The agency has numerous internal information repositories which result from disclosure filings, examinations, investigations, economic research, and other ongoing activities. With better tools, we will be able to mine this data, link it together, and combine it with data sources from outside the Commission. This will enable staff to more effectively identify risks to investors, trends in the markets, and to identify patterns of activities meriting further examination or investigation.
We also plan to complete improvements to the case and exam management tools available to our enforcement and examination programs. We intend to modernize our financial systems and implement a new system to handle the significant increase in the volume and complexity of evidentiary material obtained during the course of investigations. We also need tools to significantly improve the efficiency of loading, storing, and archiving the roughly three terabytes of data received per month during the course of investigations in order to improve turnaround time to staff and to contain costs.
Managing Agency Growth
While the budget request anticipates significant growth in the size of the SEC, the agency is properly positioned to implement this spending plan. To accomplish the hiring of hundreds of new staff during the course of FY2011, the SEC is enhancing its human resources staff and, consistent with its current authorities, streamlining its hiring process. Improvements will include simplifying the application process and maintaining a searchable database of applicants, so that it is possible to interview for a vacancy as soon as it appears rather than having to go through the lengthy posting process each time. Being able to better tailor, target and speed recruiting will enhance the quality of applicants and help the agency acquire the necessary talent to perform effectively in an increasingly complex financial environment.
Thank you, again, for your past support, and for allowing me to be here today to present the President's budget request.
While the SEC is a relatively small agency, we are charged with protecting millions of investors every day, including the nearly one-half of all households that own securities. I am pleased with the progress that we have made to date, but recognize that much work remains to be done to continue to reinvigorate the SEC and restore investor confidence in our securities markets. The funding level in the President's budget request is critical for us if we are to succeed in these efforts, and continue to improve our performance in an increasingly complex financial world.
I am happy to answer any questions that you might have.