For the past four years, Elisse Walter has served diligently as a commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission but compared to the scope of the responsibilities she'll take on starting December 14 as the agency's next chairman, she joked, "I thought I've been on vacation."
In Walter's first public appearance since President Barack Obama tapped her to succeed Mary Schapiro as head of the SEC, she touched on a wide range of issues before the agency, including implementation of the Dodd-Frank and Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) acts, oversight of investment advisers, the agency's budget and its new whistleblower program.
Walter appeared last week at The National Law Journal's regulatory summit, a one-day conference that also included perspectives from law firm leaders about the direction of regulatory practices, analysis from lawyers on the impact of the 2012 election on workplace issues and predictions from a panel of former top lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on the fiscal cliff.
Walter stressed that she was "not speaking as the incoming chair of the SEC" and that she has "steadfastly refused pre-taking office…to talk about my agenda." Still, her remarks give an indication of her priorities and approach to her new job.
At the top of the agency's to-do list: implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act (the SEC has finalized just 32 of 95 required rules) and the JOBS Act. "We are way behind schedule. We know that. We didn't want to be," she said. "Unfortunately, [rules] take a lot of time."
Walter flagged regulations dealing with swaps oversight under Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act as "one major piece…still lacking.
"What we are awaiting in order to make final determinations," she said, is a "template for how cross-border transactions and entities doing cross-border business will be treated. That is the next thing up on the hit parade." Walter said she was hopeful the agency would complete its work in the next two to three months.
Walter also encouraged stakeholders to get involved in the rulemaking process. The SEC pays "a lot of attention to the comments we receive," she said. "Please comment.…Tell us what you like, and if you hate something or think something should be changed, tell us why, give us analytics, give us data, give us suggestions of how to fix it."
At the same time, she pointed out that the SEC in many cases has limited discretion in enacting rules including recent controversial actions dealing with conflict minerals and chief executive officer pay disclosures.
"Congress told us to pass a rule on this and they gave us parameters," she said. "Our job is to do it. Our job is not to redo the congressional mandate."