Balancing competing concerns, ensuring adequate resources

Chairing any Appropriations subcommittee is both a great honor and weighty responsibility. The Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, which I chair, is responsible for overseeing and funding more than 45 federal agencies with a combined annual budget in excess of $24 billion.

Even in the best of economic times, it isn’t always easy to balance competing concerns and still ensure that these agencies have the tools and resources necessary to fulfill their missions. But today, America is facing an unprecedented set of economic challenges.

In addressing the crisis, President Obama warned against “ … doing too little or nothing at all, for that will lead to an ever-greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy.” Congress has responded by passing an economic recovery bill; a budget that restores accountability while investing in the future; a housing bill that will help millions of families keep their homes; and legislation protecting consumers from predatory lenders.

All of those bills are fundamental to economic recovery. However, none of the efforts can function efficiently or effectively without the government departments and agencies tasked with administering these vital programs.

That’s where the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee comes in. Some of the agencies most deeply involved in working to solve the financial crisis are funded through this subcommittee.

Take the Department of the Treasury. In addition to the agency’s core mission of overseeing the government’s finances and ensuring the soundness and security of our financial systems, the Treasury Department has been tasked with managing $700 billion in taxpayer dollars through the TARP program to rebuild the troubled mortgage markets and stabilize the financial sector.

That new mission will include a comprehensive restructuring of financial sector regulations. Other reforms will ensure that no firm can grow so large that its failure could destabilize the entire financial system and streamline the out-of-date regulatory apparatus to better perform in our modern financial system. Finally, many of these reforms will place an emphasis back on consumer protection through proposals like my plan to create a Financial Product Safety Commission that will ensure that mortgages, credit cards and other financial products are issued in a transparent and responsible manner.

Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund will also play a vital role in stimulating lending and community development during this economic downturn. CDFI’s funding supports much needed investments for affordable housing and small businesses, helping working families get back on steady ground. The president has wisely proposed a 178 percent increase for this program and I’ll work to support his request.

President Obama’s overall budget request for the Treasury Department for fiscal 2010 was $13.4 billion — representing a 5% increase over fiscal ’09’s enacted level. Given the scope of work ahead of them, the Treasury Department will need to make good use of these scarce dollars.

Two other agencies at the forefront of our economic recovery are the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). After a series of high-profile case of fraud, questionable reporting and unprecedented price volatility, investors and consumers need to be assured that we have strong and capable “cops on the beat,” policing our financial markets.

As our markets begin to recover, SEC will need additional resources to protect an expanding market. Since becoming Chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, I’ve increased the SEC’s budget by $133 million. This year’s budget request is nearly a 9 percent increase over last year and will allow for additional enforcement staff to be hired.

Despite the surge in activity, staffing levels at the CFTC have dropped 20 percent. Since 2007, we have increased CFTC’s budget by $62.6 million. This year’s budget request give the agency a 10 percent budget increase over last year, allowing CTFC to greatly expand their enforcement workforce.

Our economic recovery requires a coordinated, government-wide effort on nearly every level. Waste must be cut and inefficiencies eliminated. But none of that can be done in a vacuum. The departments and agencies at the front lines of our recovery efforts need to have the tools to accomplish the job.

In the coming weeks, my subcommittee will work closely with the heads of each of these agencies to ensure that the recovery puts working families back on steady footing and our economy on the right track to sustained stability and growth.

Durbin is the Senate majority whip.