As he moves on from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Luis Aguilar has a parting gift for future commissioners who will follow in his footsteps. He has issued a public statement, likely his last as a commissioner, to share what he has learned about navigating the unique challenges that come with the job.
Aguilar joined the Commission July 2008, shortly before the demise of Lehman Brothers and the financial crisis that followed. “When I first walked through this agency’s doors I did not find a ‘how to’ guide on being a commissioner,” he wrote. “There is no training manual on how to do a Commissioner’s job. For the most part, being an SEC Commissioner is on-the-job training.”
Commissioners are allowed to hire four counsels, from either inside or outside the agency, and their selection “may be one of the most important decisions you make as a Commissioner, because it will determine how effective you are and how much you’ll get done,” Aguilar wrote. Commissioners lean heavily on their counsels to gather, collect, and process information on their behalf, and lead “negotiations by proxy.”
“Make sure that your counsels develop a working knowledge of your positions and your agenda on particular matters,” he added. “Consider your counsels as your alter ego. Remember that how they are treated by others is a reflection on how others are treating you. Negotiations with others, including the staff, can become heated at times, but your counsel should never be mistreated. Defend and protect them.”
Take time to understand the SEC’s vast bureaucracy and how to get things done, Aguilar advised, admitting that is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Learn how various matters are circulated among the Commissioners (seriatim, advice memorandum, or information memorandum) as they have different powers depending on how the matter is circulated. There are also 376 separate rules where authority can be delegated to SEC staff and Commissioner’s need to be aware of actions taken on their behalf.
Also important is to fully understand the Administrative Procedures Act and the notice and comment process it requires to “understand how you can use its provisions and how they can be used against you,” Aguilar wrote.
Establishing regular meetings with directors of the various SEC Divisions and Offices is needed to keep abreast of new developments and emerging issues. “But be prepared to ask detailed questions about what the staff is working on, as the information is sometimes hard to ferret out,” Aguilar wrote.
Do your homework as “the American people cannot afford to have you wing it,” he added as general advice. “Do your own due diligence and listen to all sides—particularly those whose views may not align with yours.”
Commissioners receive an extraordinary amount of information electronically, and organizing it all can be a challenge. “If you do not feel very busy—or swamped with work—something is wrong,” Aguilar wrote. “Being a Commissioner is an all-consuming job. You will need to accept the fact that you will need to work—or at least be available—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.” His advice: make sure your SEC-issued mobile devices are always fully charged.
As for the media: “If you worry about what reporters will write about you—or the so-called “facts” that are fed to them from others who have a different agenda, or that seem as if they are made up—you will do a poor job as a Commissioner. Do not worry about what you cannot control. To that end, resist the temptation to Google yourself.”
As for who may want to heed Aguilar’s advice, that remains to be seen. President Obama has nominated Lisa Fairfax, a law professor at the George Washington University Law School, and Hester Peirce, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, to fill the Democrat and Republican seats on the Commission that are being vacated by Aguilar and the already-departed Daniel Gallagher. Both still await Senate confirmation.