The SEC, Dodd-Frank, The Jabberwocky, and Professor Irwin Corey

September 13, 2011

The Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") just posted on its website a very impressive document titled:

Report on the Implementation of SEC Organizational Reform Recommendations / As Required by Section 967 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act 

I was planning on waiting for the DVD release of the Report but figured that my responsibilities to Street Sweeper readers demanded that I plow through the 25-page document.  Although I am now exhausted from that effort, I have done my duty to you, my reader, and am in a position to share with you the many wonders of this government paper.

First: Hire A Consultant

For starters, literally, we are informed in the Report that:

The Dodd-Frank Act directed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to engage an independent consultant to conduct a broad and independent assessment of the SEC's internal operations, structure, funding, and the agency's relationship with Self-Regulating Organizations (SROs).

Ah, yes, yet another supposedly broad and purportedly independent review of yet another inefficient and overblown federal agency. As with so many of these high fallutin' government consulting projects, this one will cost taxpayers a bundle and result in little more than a batch of unworkable recommendations (most of which will likely never be implemented). Okay, sure, call me a cynic - it's a badge that I proudly wear.

Optimization Initiatives

The bureaucratic doublespeak and tortured English in the Report are truly impressive. In terms of make-work and giving the impression of accomplishment, this effort truly warrants a standing ovation. 

Just to make my point, I'll limit my shots and broadsides to the Report's laughable Executive Summary.  For starters, consider this lovely bit:

Issued in March 2011, the consultant's study provided 16 optimization initiative recommendations designed to increase the SEC's efficiency and effectiveness.

Aren't you thrilled to learn that our tax dollars have already purchased "16 optimization initiative recommendations." An optimization initiative recommendation? Of for godsakes, what does that even mean - really?  Did the SEC at least negotiate a reasonable per optimization initiative recommendation fee with the Boston Consulting Group, the consulting firm handling this project? What's the going rate for those anyway? Something like $2.75 each with a discount for ten or more?

Bridge to Nowhere

Of course, it's not like the SEC is clueless about all of its many shortcomings and is simply content to look at its watch and wait for the consultant's recommendations before taking action. Quite to the contrary. Since the issuance of the March 2011 consultant's study, the Report informs us that:

In the six months since the study was issued, the SEC has developed the necessary program management and oversight infrastructure to address the next step in the agency's on-going multi-year change initiative: conducting a thorough analysis of each recommendation and designing appropriate approaches for those recommendations selected for implementation.

And y'all wonder why the regulation of Wall Street seems clueless and impotent?  I'm absolutely thrilled to learn that it took the SEC only six months to develop the "necessary program management and oversight infrastructure."

Program management and oversight infrastructure? I sort of understand infrastructure as taking the form of a bridge, a tunnel - something made with concrete and steel. How does that all get transformed into some managerial and oversight function?  Did we at least get a highway overpass to the new managerial and oversight function?

Up A Workstream

Hey, be thankful, it only took six months to develop that necessary program infrastructure thingamagig.   Now what - a bridge to nowhere? Amazingly, the SEC apparently anticipated my sarcasm because it preemptively noted in the Report:

Over the next six months, significant work will have been done within each workstream to analyze the Boston Consulting Group's (BCG) recommendations and recommend what, if any, actions should be taken.

Okay, that seems reasonable. Lemme see if I got this.

First, ya got yer six months to develop the infrastructure whatchamacallit.

Second, ya got another six months to analyze the consultant's recommendations before you actually do anything with that infrastructure that's now rusting away.

Then, whew, lemme catch my breath here - then, after that year of heavy-duty developing and analyzing, the SEC will probably get around to recommending "what, if any, actions should be taken."  Six months here. Six months there. Why at this rate we could easily waste an entire year just ruminatin' rather than doing something about anything. Of course, that is what passes for government these days, right?

Am I mistaken but didn't President Obama just excoriate Congress for sitting on its hands rather than immediately passing his new jobs bill? Maybe after our President reads this Report he will see the folly of his ways.  First, the Obama Administration should hire a consultant to do a six-month study on whether there is a need for jobs. Then, the White House should start building the infrastructure to permit it to study the recommendations of the consultant. Then, about a year from now, the Executive Branch can publish a paper detailing its year of looking into the problem and coming up with some ideas.  At that point, the White House may realize that it's only fair to give Congress time to hire its own consultant to study the Obama plan - which will include building separate House and Senate infrastructures for pondering the response to the proposal to create jobs.  Hmmm . . . we may actually create a lot of jobs just looking into the idea of whether we should create a lot of jobs.

But getting back to my tirade about the Report, I'm truly puzzled by the term "workstream." Were all those workstreams created in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene? Would it be fair to expect that the SEC regulators will likely get caught up a workstream without a paddle?

Time-Phased Multi-Year Optimization

Finally, what does the SEC propose to to with the second six months of post-infrastructuring analysis?  Well, here it is from the horse's, umm, mouth.  The SEC is apparently prepared to:

[D]evelop implementation options, then create a time-phased, multi-year implementation plan that accounts for constraints in the agency budget, management time, and agency priorities. The agency will focus on assessing the schedule, costs, and management bandwidth required for each initiative; identifying cross-work-stream integration points; and developing a detailed prioritization and implementation plan that sequences the various implementation activities.

Implementation options? Time-phased, multi-year implementation plan . . . that sequence the various implementation activities"

Did some comic write that or does the SEC truly believe that such gobbledygook passes for intelligible English?  If you're truly intrigued by the concept of workstreams and the rest of the idiocy in the Report, let me at least offer you this coming attraction of the bullet points for those rivulets of conceptualism:

• Workstream 1A / B - Reprioritize Regulatory Activities
• Workstream 2A - Reshape the Organization
• Workstream 2A - 1 - Office of Administrative Services Organizational Assessment
• Workstream 2A - 2 - Office of Financial Management Organizational Assessment
• Workstream 2A - 3 - Office of the Chief Data Officer Organizational Stand-Up
• Workstream 2B - Conduct a Regional Organizational Assessment
• Workstream 2C - Seek Congressional flexibility for offices mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act
• Workstream 2D - Review Commission / Staff Interaction processes and Delegation of Authorities (DOA)
• Workstream 2E - Implement a Continuous Cost Improvement Program
• Workstream 3A - Transform the Office of Information Technology and Enhance Technology Capabilities (includes workstream 5G: Improve Technology-Delivery)
• Workstream 3C - Create a Technology Center of Excellence
• Workstream 3D - Restructure the Office of Human Resources
• Workstream 3E - Accelerate roll out of the SEC's Evidence-Based Performance Management System
• Workstream 3F - Create a Surge Capacity Plan
• Workstream 3G - Enhance Risk Management Capabilities in Line and Support Organizations
• Workstream 3H - Fill Vacancies with Employees who meet High Priority Skill Needs
• Workstream 4 Enhance SRO Engagement Model (Workstream 4A - Strengthen Oversight of SROs; 4B - Centralize and Coordinate approach to SRO Interaction; Workstream 4C - Strengthen / Clarify processes for SRO Rule Proposals; 5A Conduct Outcome-Oriented Performance Measures)
• Workstream 5A - Conduct Outcome-Oriented Performance Measures Feasibility Study

Prof. Irwin Corey Meets the Jabberwocky

So, tell me, how did we lose control of our government?  How did we allow the bureaucracy to hijack commonsense and mutate it into a doublespeak of grotesque proportion?  Why does every government official remind me of Professor Irwin Corey?

The Report is a map to nowhere. And you don't need to create a Surge Capacity Program  or a Conduct Outcome-Oriented Performance Measures Feasibility Study to figure that out. 

I think that Lewis Carroll put it far better in his opening lines of Jabberwocky:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!"