The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s efforts to police credit rating agencies after the financial crisis came under congressional fire on Thursday, when members of a House Financial Services subcommittee took an agency official to task for not clamping down more tightly on an industry that was at the center of the Great Recession. At an oversight hearing about certain of the SEC’s offices and divisions, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers repeatedly took aim at Thomas J. Butler, director of its Office of Credit Ratings, over what they saw as the agency’s shortcomings in regulating the credit ratings industry, which is dominated by three major firms.
Among other things, the legislators took aim at the continuance of the so-called issuer pays model, in which rating agencies are hired and paid by the very banks and entities issuing bonds. Lawmakers pressed Butler as to why the SEC hasn’t changed that practice, despite the conflicts of interest it creates. Although the SEC in August 2014 passed rules requiring rating agencies to wall off their analysts from their sales and marketing staff, the legislators said that was not enough to tackle the problem.