SEC's Request For Budget Increase Denied Despite Expanded Duties
The Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been given expanded responsibilities as part of financial regulatory reform, lost out in its latest effort to get a budget increase.
The House Appropriations Committee voted to keep the agency's budget flat at $1.19 billion, about $222.5 million short of the administration's request. The panel cited some of the agency's recent management problems, such as mishandling some IT contracts and a major office lease, in a report that accompanied the bill. The SEC budget doesn't impact the federal budget deficit since it uses the money it raises from fees that it collects from industry.
As part of its new duties, the agency is planning to create a five-member office of municipal securities and a 35-member office of credit ratings, which are both mandated by Dodd-Frank. The offices will be funded using their current funds, said SEC chair Mary Schapiro in a letter to lawmakers.
In related news, the SEC started probing Deutsche Bank based on allegations that some assets in a multibillion-dollar portfolio of high-risk credit default swaps were improperly valued in order to hide trading losses, Reuters reports.
The investigation was disclosed in documents that are part of a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the bank by some employees in New York. Due to "substantial trading anomalies" in that derivatives portfolio, the bank quietly fired Alex Bernard, one of its top traders in London. Deutsche Bank settled the case in January, paying $900,000 to trader Matthew Simpson.
Bernard, who lives in France and calls himself an "independent philanthropy professional," declined to comment to Reuters.
Darrell's Dilemma: To Subpoena Or Not To Subpoena
Why hasn't Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued subpoenas to banks implicated in foreclosure wrongdoing, requiring them to produce documents in a government probe?
That is the question posed by the lawmaker's hometown newspaper, some of his constituents who have been stuck in foreclosure limbo and his Democratic counterpart on the House Oversight Committee. On Tuesday, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote his fourth letter in six months to Issa requesting he hold banks accountable.
Issa's reply was harsh -- without saying whether he agrees with Cummings, he slammed the panel's Democratic members for "obstruction" in the panel's probe of the foreclosure crisis and claimed that he needs more information before taking such a step. From Issa's letter:
Nevertheless I do not expect this or other possible missteps will ultimately determine whether a subpoena is indeed the prudent next step. Majority staff are working to gather necessary information from minority counterparts. Please help me help you by ensuring the full cooperation of your staff, without the continued delays that have so far occurred, in this process.
Hazardous Pesticide Prompted Flurry Of Lobbying
HuffPost's Lucia Graves reports that industry regulators have known for years that an ingredient in the planet's most widely used herbicide -- Roundup Weed Killer -- causes birth defects in the embryos of laboratory animals.
Although the EPA has said it wants to evaluate more evidence of glyphosate's human health risk as part of a registration review program, the agency is not doing any studies of its own and is instead relying on outside data -- much of which comes from the agricultural chemicals industry it seeks to regulate.
"EPA ensures that each registered pesticide continues to meet the highest standards of safety to protect human health and the environment," the agency told HuffPost in a statement. "These standards have become stricter over the years as our ability to evaluate the potential effects of pesticides has increased. The Agency placed glyphosphate into registration review. Registration review makes sure that as the ability to assess risks and as new information becomes available, the Agency carefully considers the new information to ensure pesticides do not pose risks of concern to people or the environment."
Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, spent $1.4 million in the first quarter of 2011 lobbying Congress and federal agencies on a variety of issues, including Roundup, which is mentioned 19 times in lobbying reports.
Nuke Waste Decision Was Politicized, Claims NRC Official
The leadership of the nation's top nuclear watchdog has undermined its integrity by politicizing work on the long-planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, according to a senior official with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“Although resilient from our adaptation to budgetary pressures, we were unprepared for the political pressures and manipulation of our scientific and licensing processes that would come with the appointment of Chairman [Gregory] Jaczko in 2009,” Aby Mohseni, acting director of the NRC's High-Level Waste Repository Safety division, wrote in testimony submitted to a House panel examining the Obama administration's efforts to halt the project, reports The Hill's Ben Geman.
Other NRC staffers are set to appear before a panel Friday to criticize Jaczko's leadership, particularly claiming that the chairman directed his staffers to terminate the project and sidestepped the usual decision-making process to that effect. An earlier NRC inspector general report was also critical of Jaczko but found that he didn't break any laws. Jaczko formerly worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has been a longtime critic of the Yucca Mountain plan.