CFTC Chief Pledges to Address Employee Unrest Plaguing Regulator

The head of the U.S. derivatives regulator is promising employees he will try to address low morale that has caused the agency to be labeled one of the worst places to work in government.

Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Timothy Massad sent an agency-wide e-mail last week pledging changes after a recent federal survey found that just 40 percent of the staff are satisfied with their jobs and pay. Complaints that the CFTC pays less than other financial regulators prompted employees to unionize earlier this year.

“The results mean that we as an agency need to take a good hard look at the work environment and take positive steps to make improvements,” Massad wrote, according to a copy of the message read to Bloomberg News.

Created 40 years ago mainly to police agriculture futures, the CFTC took on new responsibilities in 2010 when the Dodd-Frank Act gave it oversight of the $700 trillion swaps market. Both appointed officials and career employees at the 700-person agency say the expanded responsibilities have overburdened the CFTC, especially with a $215 million budget that has grown little in recent years.

Senate Testimony

Massad, who took office in June, didn’t mention in his e-mail any specific improvements he plans to make.

“I realize that any change needs to start at the top,” Massad wrote, adding that other commissioners and managers share a “commitment to do all we can to improve.”

Massad is testifying today before the Senate Agriculture Committee. The oversight hearing is expected to touch on the employee malaise, as well as the agency’s budget.

Last night, in a deal cut in Congress, Massad got some leeway on funding. Lawmakers agreed to vote on a measure this week that gives the agency a $250 million budget in exchange for rolling back a provision that required Wall Street firms to move their derivatives holdings out of banking subsidiaries.

In the survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, employees gave the agency low marks for pay practices, opportunities for career advancement and management quality. The 40 percent figure for staff who said they were content with their jobs is almost 20 percentage points lower than the average rate for small government agencies.

Low Morale

Morale at the agency also fell significantly in the past year. The survey found that 45 percent of employees said they would recommend the CFTC as a good place to work; last year it was 64 percent. Less than 30 percent said they were satisfied with their pay compared with almost 80 percent in 2010.

In October, CFTC workers chose to join the National Treasury Employees Union. It represents staff at other regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Since then, some CFTC staff members have complained that the agency is resorting to anti-labor tactics, according to employees who asked not to be identified. Grievances include an attempt by the agency to keep some people out of the union even though they are not managers, the people said. The agency has also been slow to turn over paperwork that will enable the union to deduct dues from paychecks.

Massad, who in the early 1980s worked as a legal intern at the AFL-CIO and as an organizer for the Wisconsin Citizens Utility Board, reached out to the union this week, the people said.

“We have worked in good faith with the union and will continue to do so,” said Steve Adamske, a CFTC spokesman.

Colleen Kelley, the president of the NTEU, said in an e-mail that the union “is in the early stages of working with CFTC management to resolve employee concerns” and preparing for contract negotiations.

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