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Gary Gensler at Public Citizen: Even describing job to mom is hard

Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), has such a complicated job that he even has trouble explaining it to his mother.

Speaking today to a room full of activists and reporters as part of Public Citizen’s 40th anniversary speaker series, Gensler was asked about translating the jargon of the complex world of derivatives and the CFTC and making it accessible to the average person. He admitted that it’s hard to do, even when talking to his own family.

“My 84-year-old mother asks me, ‘What do you do down there?’ ” Gensler said, smiling.

The best way he can describe it, he said, is that the CFTC is “the cop on the beat.”

Gensler spoke for about 45 minutes, describing the agency’s role post-financial crash (increasing market transparency and oversight) and discussing the need for agency funding. In the 1990s, he said, the agency had 632 staffers. A decade ago that number shrank by 25 percent, but now it is back up to 675 people. Their task is a critical one, he said: To implement key parts of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, asked Gensler how regulation can tamp the rampant speculation that is driving up oil prices. Gensler’s answer:  Making the swaps marketplace more transparent (in the works) and reinstating position limits in energy markets (a rule is proposed).

As the people dispersed, Slocum presented Gensler with a box containing petition signatures of nearly 12,000 activists who called on the CFTC to end Wall Street domination of the energy futures market.

Gensler, who during his remarks repeatedly spoke of the importance of transparency, replied that he was pleased they would become part of the public record.