Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2005

Abstract

As one grows older, birthdays gradually shift from being celebratory events to more reflective occasions. One's 40th birthday is commemorated rather differently from one's 2lst, which is, in turn, celebrated quite differently from one's first. After a certain point, the individual birthdays become less important and it is the milestone years to whch we pay particular attention. Sadly for entities like the Securities and Exchange Commission, it is only the milestone years (the ones ending in five or zero, for some reason), that draw any attention at all. No one held a conference to celebrate the SEC's 67th anniversary. Clearly the SEC is not getting its fair share of chocolate cake. Eventually the birthdays come to be recognitions of the fact that you are still around. Survival, not moving ahead in life, becomes the notable fact. And so it is with the SEC. It has now been 70 years since Congress created the SEC in the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. We are still short of the gold standard for human survival -- 100 years - but 70 is not bad. The SEC today looks poised to outlast even the longest human life span. It has largely moved beyond the tasks that dominated much of its early agenda - the taming of the New York Stock Exchange, the reform of corporate bankruptcies and public utilities - and ensconced itself firmly as the arbiter of corporate disclosure and the primary enforcer of anti-fraud rules relating to the purchase and sale of securities. And the perceived importance of those latter-day functions, and thus, the SEC's prospects for survival, have only increased of late, reinforced by the fin de sicle accounting scandals and corporate abuses. The list is by now familiar - Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Adelphia, Global Crossing, etc., etc. - and that drumbeat of scandal has made the SEC once again the fair-haired boy of the Congress and the White House. The SEC was given a raft of new enforcement tools by Congress in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as politicians fell over themselves to get tough on corporate crime in the wake of the collapse of the tech bubble. The SEC - most anxious not to disappoint - has responded to this groundswell of support with a flurry of rulemaking aimed at accountants, analysts and audit committees, just to covcr the "A's. I have not run across any rules directed toward the "Z's, but I am sure that is only because the agency has not gotten that far yet. So the SEC clearly shows no interest in slowing down and taking it easy as it reaches its advanced years. A more telling sign of continued vitality at thc SEC is that the customary complaints about how the agency docs not have nearly enough resources to adequately do its job of protecting the integrity of our financial markets have given way to an extraordinary situation in which the agency finds itself unable to spend all of the money allocated to it by Congress (which vas in turn, more than the White House asked for). This is a most unusual problem for a bureaucracy to have. In sum, business is booming at the SEC.