Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society

Regulating the Regulators: The Executive Branch and the SEC, 1981-2008

An Independent Agency

Working Together

“There was obviously a lot on the mind of the President. I’m sure the SEC was not on the top of the agenda item at each morning briefing, but I certainly was never given the impression that the Commission was viewed as a backwater, unimportant, irrelevant or anything else.”

- May 15, 2015 Interview with Steven Wallman

John Fedders, who was at the SEC during the 1980s, and Peter Derby, who served there two decades later, had the same philosophy for the SEC’s working relationship with the White House: no surprises.  Fedders recalled, “That would be the worst thing you could do – to create a surprise.” Derby elaborated: “The official communication would be from an advisor in the West Wing, usually on the Economic Council … We are an independent agency, but we kept the White House abreast of policies that were being developed or introduced, and we would get views in return from them, as well as new concerns.  Everything was always a flow of information.  Our rule was, no surprises.”14

Contact between the White House and the SEC was limited.  Michael Halloran remembered, “We had very little contact with the White House.  They did not call up and give us orders or anything.”  Elisse Walter noted, “As a Commissioner, you have nothing to do with the White House, absolutely nothing.  You have very little to do with the White House when you’re Chairman.  People seem to think that you get called by the President every day.  You don’t get called by anybody anytime.”15

SEC Chairmen and Commissioners could face challenges in building relationships with the agency staff.  Arthur Levitt was advised to “define yourself with your staff.  If they support you, it will be extraordinarily helpful, and if they don’t, you’re doomed.”  Joseph Grundfest observed, “The staff’s view was Commissioners come and go, but we’re here forever.  They knew that in four or five years I would be gone.  So the staff can develop a strategy that says, ‘Okay, we have to follow a containment-in-management approach with regard to any Commissioner or even Chairman, because at some point they’re gone.  We’re career.’”16

SEC Chairmen also were challenged in working with their fellow Commissioners, due, ironically, to the Sunshine Act of 1976.  As Daniel Goelzer noted, “A big effect of the Sunshine Act was to make the Chairman more powerful, to give him a much bigger role in setting the agenda.  The Chairman could meet with staff freely, but he couldn’t meet with his fellow Commissioners except in a formalized, announced-to-the-public kind of setting.  That made the Chairman more dominant and eroded collegiality.”  For Cynthia Glassman, the Sunshine Act “makes it very difficult to be collegial and to develop a consensus on areas where there are strong differences of views.”17

The effect of the Sunshine Act, along with the need to keep the White House closely informed, meant that the SEC staff found themselves working more directly with the Chairmen rather than the Commissioners.  Paul Roye recalled, “As a division director, you really work for the Chairman.  It’s your job to carry out the Chairman’s wishes and his approach to dealing with the issues.  You’re pretty much an advocate for the Chairman with the other Commissioners.”  Robert Plaze noted, “Every Chairman I have worked for at the Commission – there were seven of them – always pushed us to get stuff out of the door before they left.  Every administration, before it leaves, wants to finish the work that it started.  It’s not politics in a sense that one point of view wants to take advantage of another point of view.  Everybody wants to get their business done.”18


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Related Museum Resources

Papers

July 17, 1981
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
July 23, 1981
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
August 20, 1981
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
March 29, 1982
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
July 9, 1982
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
August 13, 1982
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the estate of John R. Evans; made possible through a gift from Quinton F. Seamons)
September 24, 1982
image pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
October 7, 1982
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
October 9, 1982
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
October 12, 1982
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
October 13, 1982
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
October 13, 1982
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
October 19, 1982
image pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
January 25, 1983
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
February 23, 1983
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
May 4, 1983
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 17, 1983
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
June 17, 1983
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
July 15, 1983
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
October 26, 1983
image pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
November 30, 1983
image pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
December 20, 1983
image pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
January 3, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of John Huber)
March 23, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
March 30, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 2, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
June 14, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
June 28, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
June 28, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
July 19, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
August 14, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of David B.H. Martin)
September 27, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)
October 26, 1984
image pdf (Courtesy of David B.H. Martin)
February 8, 1985
transcript pdf (Courtesy of John Huber)
January 2, 1986
transcript pdf (Courtesy of John Huber)
October 16, 1987
image pdf (Courtesy of David S. Ruder)
November 19, 1987
image pdf (Courtesy of David S. Ruder)
March 18, 1988
image pdf (Courtesy of David S. Ruder)
May 16, 1988
image pdf (Courtesy of David S. Ruder)
June 23, 1988
image pdf (Courtesy of David S. Ruder)
March 9, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
March 15, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 4, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
June 21, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
September 18, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
October 5, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
October 12, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
October 16, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
October 22, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
October 31, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
November 21, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
November 25, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
November 28, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
December 17, 1990
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
January 11, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
February 5, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
February 5, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
February 7, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
March 12, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
March 14, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
April 2, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
April 12, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
April 18, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 16, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 16, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 17, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 17, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
June 18, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
June 24, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
September 25, 1991
transcript pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
December 6, 1991
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
January 7, 1992
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
March 20, 1992
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 5, 1992
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
May 18, 1992
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
June 22, 1992
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
October 2, 1992
image pdf (Courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
February 4, 1994
transcript pdf (With permission of Arthur Levitt Papers, Columbia University in the City of New York)
June 20, 1995
image pdf (With permission of Arthur Levitt Papers, Columbia University in the City of New York)
January 5, 1996
image pdf (Courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum)
March 12, 1996
image pdf (With permission of Arthur Levitt Papers, Columbia University in the City of New York)
April 15, 1997
image pdf (Courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum)
August 25, 1997
image pdf (With permission of Arthur Levitt Papers, Columbia University in the City of New York)
September 22, 1997
image pdf (With permission of Arthur Levitt Papers, Columbia University in the City of New York)
May 7, 1998
image pdf (Courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library)
December 31, 2001
image pdf (Courtesy of George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
March 19, 2002
image pdf (Courtesy of George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
July 3, 2002
image pdf (Courtesy of George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
July 21, 2002
image pdf (Courtesy of George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
August 28, 2002
image pdf (Courtesy of George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
December 19, 2003
image pdf (Courtesy of George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
December 22, 2004
image pdf (Courtesy of George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
June 15, 2005
image pdf (Courtesy of George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Oral Histories

12 June 2015

Peter Derby

09 August 2006

John Fedders

21 November 2005

Cynthia Glassman

14 April 2008

Daniel Goelzer

20 June 2013

Joseph Grundfest

05 May 2011

Michael Halloran

20 June 2013

Arthur Levitt

07 June 2016

Robert Plaze

21 June 2016

Paul Roye

15 May 2015

Steven Wallman

09 May 2014

Elisse Walter

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