The General Accounting Office's long overdue report on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission probably will not be completed in time for CFTC officials to review it before their appearance at three congressional hearings scheduled for later this month.
GAO officials yesterday confirmed what CFTC staffers had begun to fear: that the commission will have little time to prepare answers to questions raised by the study, yet GAO officials will testify on the report's findings at the hearings.
The document had been expected to provide data to members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committee for questioning commission officials about the agency's performance.
The commission has stirred an unusual amount of controversy in its first three years of operation and faces rigorous questioning by congressional critics at upcoming reauthorization beginning Feb. 21. The house Appropriations Committee is to review the agency's fiscal 1979 and supplemental options budgets for fiscal 1978 and 1979 on Feb. 22. The Senate Agriculture Committee also plans to hold a session on the commission that week.
Orginally the draft GAO report - the result of year-long audit of the agency - was to be completed in December and sent to the agency for comment. A final version had been scheduled for completion in February, in advance of the reauthorization hearings which tentatively had been slated for March.
A GAO officials said yesterday that high-level CFT officials will be briefed about GAO's planned testimony before the hearings. "Depending on the questions of the congressmen, though, we may go into some of the areas in more depth than wests by congressional staffs for in-depth studies of sevee plan for," he said.
The officals said continuing requests by congressional staffs for in-depth studies of several areas of the CFTC's responsibility delayed the report. He said a draft version of the study is being reviewed by various GAO officials and the general counsel's office. He predicted that the final, public report will not be completed until March.
One of the areas which triggered a number of congressional inquiries to GAO is commodity options. The recent scandal surrounding London options sales in the U.S., the proposed CFTC ban on sales of London and dealer option contracts, and a proposal in a reauthorization bill sponsored by Sen. Walter (Dee) Huddleston (D-Ky.) to outlaw London options pending hearings on that market all are expected to be discussed at the hearings.
Huddleston's bill also would reaffirm the independence of the commission, which some critics have suggested should be dismantled.They have proposed that an individual administor head a division within the Departments of Agriculture or Treasury to regulate commodity futures trading, or that all of the CFTC's duties be shifted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In the introduction to his bill Huddleston states, "The regulation of the futures markets - thereby preventing market manipulatio and insuring the credibility of futures as a price-determination mechanism - is extremely important to the national and international economy. The commission may not have reached the 'correct' decision in all instances. However, now that its maturation period is coming to an end, I believe that commission form is best suited to regualte the futures industry."
His bill, as well as one submitted by Rep. Thomas Foley (D-Wash), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, would change the term of the chairman from a flat five years to one "at the pleasure of the president."
That amendment may have substantial impact on the way the commission is administered in the next five years because it likely will result in the designation of a new CFTC chairman.
Chairman William T. Bagley, who was appointed in 1975 to a five-year term by then President Ford, has engendered much controversy by his outspokenness and the manner in which he has administered the agency.