The Securities and Exchange Commission needs to make improvements to its hiring and personnel practices, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO said that the agency could do a better job of recruiting and retaining staff for its dozen offices, and that the SEC could more effectively seek out input from its 3,800 employees, members of Congress and the securities industry.

SEC associate executive director Jeff Risinger agreed with the findings in a Dec. 15 letter included with the report. Risinger said that the SEC is close to completing a strategic human capital plan addressing many areas of concern cited by the GAO, though no date for the plan's rollout has been announced.

In 2004, the SEC split its Office of Administrative and Personnel Management into the Office of Administrative Services and the Office of Human Resources, allowing the agency to separate its administrative and personnel functions and hire an associate executive director to focus on assessing, developing and implementing human capital programs.

In April 2005, the SEC created a more structured human capital council by expanding the role of its Executive Resources Board, now called the Human Capital Review Board. The board includes senior management from all major divisions and offices, and follows a more formalized and regular process for reviewing and approving human capital decisions.

Among other things, the GAO said that the SEC doesn't have a formal process to identify its staff's skills, or to link the staff's skills to its strategic goals. The SEC has retained a recruitment firm to help it hire more accountants in its corporation finance division, and is using bonuses to attract candidates to work for the federal government. The agency is also testing an off-site work program and had more than 800 employees enrolled in its telecommuting program by last August.

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox has a number of key hires to make in the coming months, including filling the agency's chief accountant positions and making hires for the top director positions for the market regulation and investment management divisions. The SEC must also name a permanent successor to William McDonough as chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

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