Chance of sizable SEC budget boost gets dimmer

House budget proposal doesn't come close to meeting figure requested by Mary Jo White

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Jul 9, 2013 @ 6:10 pm (Updated 8:42 am) EST

House lawmakers are poised to deny the Securities and Exchange Commission the budget increase the agency says is required to strengthen oversight of investment advisers.

The House Appropriations Committee released on Tuesday its financial services budget proposal, which authorizes $1.371 billion in SEC spending. That's $303 million less than the $1.674 billion SEC budget request but $50 million more than the SEC's current $1.321 billion budget.

In congressional testimony during her first three months in office, SEC Chairman Mary Jo White asserted that a substantial budget boost would allow the agency to put more muscle into adviser regulation. She said the agency currently examines annually about 8% of the nearly 10,000 registered advisers -- and 40% of them have never been examined.

“Therefore, under the [fiscal year] 2014 request, one of the SEC's top priorities is to hire 250 additional examiners to increase the proportion of advisers examined each year, the rate of first-time examinations, and the examination coverage of investment advisers and newly registered private fund advisers,” Ms. White told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government at a May 7 hearing.

So far, it looks as if Ms. White's request has fallen on deaf ears. The House Appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to vote on the SEC's budget – and those of other agencies under its jurisdiction – on Wednesday. Passage by the panel and the full appropriations committee is certain. The bill would then move to the House floor for likely approval by the chamber, which is controlled by Republicans.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, led by Democrats, is consistently more generous with the SEC budget.

Over the last couple years, the House and Senate could not agree on a final federal budget and instead passed so-called continuing resolutions that kept agency funding flat – a scenario that could be repeated at the end of the federal fiscal year in late September.

The House financial services appropriations bill totals $17 billion, or $4.3 billion below fiscal year 2013 levels and $3 billion less than current funding after sequestration cuts.

The House's SEC allocation, although $50 million above current funding levels, effectively denies the agency more spending authority because it also prevents the SEC from utilizing money from its so-called reserve fund. The Dodd-Frank financial reform law allowed the agency to spend up to $50 million annually from that pot of money.

The House budget bill also compels the SEC to spend at least $50 million on technology upgrades and to allocate at least $44.4 million to the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis.

The SEC's total spending has no impact on the federal budget deficit because it is offset by fees the agency collects on securities transactions.