Regulators report on efforts to put financial overhaul in place

Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Roger Altman, founder and chairman of Evercore Partners Inc., discusses Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's testimony today before the Senate Banking Committee on the implementation of the Dodd-Frank law. Altman speaks with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television's "In the Loop." (Source: Bloomberg)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011; 10:44 PM

Only a year ago, members of the Senate banking committee were in the midst of hashing out a far-reaching bill to overhaul the nation's financial regulation. Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) spoke often and with urgency to his divided committee about the need to move quickly in the wake of the most crushing financial crisis in generations.

Much can change in a year.

On Thursday morning, banking committee members gathered again in 538 Dirksen. With Dodd retired from the Senate, a new chairman sat in his place, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.). The so-called Dodd-Frank bill was now law.

Some of the nation's top banking regulators had come to update the panel on their progress in implementing the law's many provisions, underscoring just how complex and time-consuming it will be to put them all into practice.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told lawmakers that his agency has 300 staff members working on rulemaking and studies, some of which will unfold over months and possibly years. A top priority for the Fed, he said, is setting more stringent prudential standards for all larger banking organizations and for non-bank firms designated by the Financial Stability Oversight Council. The council was established under Dodd-Frank to monitor threats to the nation's financial system.

Next came Sheila C. Bair, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman, who said the agency has been hard at work strengthening the deposit insurance fund and using its newfound power to seize and wind down large, failing financial firms.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, led by Mary Schapiro, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, headed by Gary Gensler, are wrestling with how best to bring transparency and oversight to the vast "over-the-counter" financial derivatives and swaps markets.

Schapiro and Gensler told the panel that budget pressures are hampering their efforts.

Schapiro said the SEC has had to restrict hiring, cut travel and put technology updates on hold. "And that's having an impact on our ability . . . to achieve our core mission as effectively as we could," she said.

Gensler said the trading commission needs to expand to be able to manage its mission. The agency's technology budget, $31 million, is likely to be cut 45 percent, he said. "We're cutting travel and all the other things to be efficient," he said, "but technology is the key to move forward."

John Walsh, acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, made clear that the agency is busy absorbing the Office of Thrift Supervision, as mandated by the new law.

Johnson said Thursday's hearing marked the first in a series to examine elements of Dodd-Frank, an effort that he said "will seek to ensure that the letter and the spirit of the new law are being implemented," that the public has a voice in how the rules are shaped and that regulators have the resources to enforce the bill's many provisions.

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