Watchdog Blog

POGO: Unposted Inspector General Reports Showcase SEC Misconduct

Posted at 10:59 am, January 20th, 2011

By Michael Smallberg, crossposted with the Project On Government Oversight

A few months ago, we questioned why many of the investigative reports issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Office of Inspector General (OIG) are nowhere to be found on the agency or the OIG’s website.

Since then, we’ve obtained many of these unposted reports, which were released to POGO and others through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but are still not available on the websites of the SEC or OIG. We’ve made these reports searchable and posted them on our own website as a resource to the public.

The OIG’s recent investigations have uncovered a number of alarming problems at the SEC, the agency tasked with protecting investors and ensuring the integrity of financial markets. As the SEC works to restore its reputation in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the OIG’s investigative reports offer a unique glimpse at the ongoing problems facing the agency.

Anyone who follows the SEC is probably well acquainted with the OIG’s blockbuster investigations of the agency’s failures to crack down on the Ponzi schemes orchestrated by Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford. These two reports, which were the focus of significant media and congressional attention, were promptly posted on the SEC and OIG’s websites.

But these are hardly the only investigations undertaken by the OIG in recent years. Other investigative reports have detailed serious misconduct such as retaliation against whistleblowers, conflicts of interest, disclosures of non-public information, a botched investigation of Bear Stearns, insider trading by SEC employees, and much more.

Unfortunately, in contrast to the OIG’s audit reports, it can take months or even years for investigative reports to be made available to public, if they’re made available at all. Even when they are released, they tend to be heavily redacted.

So perhaps it’s no coincidence that the SEC often ignores or rejects recommendations made in the OIG’s investigative reports, a problem we highlighted a few years ago in a letter to SEC Chair Mary Schapiro. This is especially a problem in cases where the OIG recommends disciplinary action. In a letter sent to Chairman Schapiro a few weeks ago, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) raised concerns about the systemic lack of discipline for SEC employees, citing many of the unposted investigative reports obtained by POGO.

To be sure, some of the OIG’s investigations were previously disclosed by reporters and Members of Congress, especially Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), and the OIG regularly summarizes its investigative work in semiannual reports to Congress. But since the reports are still conspicuously absent from the SEC’s website, we thought it would be handy to compile them in one place.

We’re not suggesting that the SEC should be proactively redacting and posting every single investigate report issued by the OIG. Such a policy would likely place a substantial burden on agency and OIG staff  since most investigative reports need to be heavily redacted prior to public release. And we’re not sure there’s sufficient public interest in releasing every investigative report, especially those that do not find any evidence of wrongdoing by the agency.

On the other hand, once an agency has already taken the time to redact and release a report in response to a FOIA request, it shouldn’t be too much extra work to post the report online. Even if the OIG doesn’t find any wrongdoing, posting the report online would allow the public to examine whether the OIG conducted a thorough investigation. For instance, the previous SEC IG came under heavy criticism for failing to conduct a serious investigation into allegations of whistleblower retaliation against Gary Aguirre.

We’re still wading through the unposted reports, but we’ll be sure to describe any highlights (or lowlights?) as we come across them. For now, you can check out the reports here.

And if any of our loyal blog readers have obtained other OIG investigative reports that aren’t posted on our site, please drop us a comment below.

Comments are closed.

The website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.