The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hired a compliance expert with experience at top U.S. companies, including Altria Group Inc. and AOL Inc., to oversee its new whistleblower bounty program, the agency said on Friday.
Sean McKessy, who served as corporate secretary for Altria and AOL, and as securities counsel for Caterpillar Inc., will head the agency’s new whistleblower office, created by the financial regulatory reform law enacted last year.
In that role, he will work with whistleblowers, handle their tips and complaints, and help the Commission determine the size of awards it will provide, the agency said.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act authorized the SEC to reward individuals who provide information about securities-law violations to the agency with a cut of any substantial sanction derived from the tip.
Citing budget constraints, the SEC in December put the whistleblower program and others mandated by the new law on hold. It then said it would delay setting up the whistleblower office.
The delay didn’t last long. SEC chairwoman Mary Schapiro told Congress Thursday the agency would soon announce a new coordinator for the program.
The SEC asked for about $1.4 billion as part of the 2012 budget request released on Monday, up from the $1.1 billion it received in 2010.
It said it would use around one-third of the increase to pay for more than 450 new positions created by the new law. According to the SEC’s budget justification, 43 of the new positions will focus on the whistleblower program.
But the agency appears to be making do with its current budget. The SEC said in a statement announcing McKessy’s appointment that it will “consolidate existing resources” to implement the provisions in the law.
The SEC is expected to issue a final set of rules to govern its whistleblower program in the next several months. Its preliminary proposal met with much resistance from the business community, which said it encouraged employees to bypass mechanisms to report complaints within a company and head straight to the SEC in hopes of a payout.
In the private sector, according to the SEC, McKessy developed and supervised internal compliance and reporting programs related to the federal securities laws, served as a corporate compliance officer, and coordinated the reporting of potential violations to boards of directors.
In a statement, McKessy said: “Whistleblowers often provide invaluable information that can help uncover securities fraud and protect investors.”
The whistleblower position will be McKessy’s second tour of duty at the agency — he worked as senior counsel in the enforcement division between 1997 and 2000.
“Sean is uniquely positioned to oversee the Commission’s whistleblower program,” said Robert Khuzami, who heads the SEC’s enforcement division, in which the whistleblower office will be housed.
Both the agency and whistleblowers will “greatly benefit from Sean’s first-hand experience in bringing enforcement cases, handling whistleblower complaints and understanding the workings of internal corporate compliance programs,” Khuzami said.