Under increasing pressure from Congress to tame rising energy prices, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) regulators told a Senate committee last Wednesday that the agency needs significantly more funds and staff members to carry out its mission.

“We could use upwards of $155, $156, $157 million [annually] to ensure that we can do this stuff,” said CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee. “These are extraordinary times, and I think it requires an extraordinary budget.”

President Bush’s budget request for the agency in fiscal year 2009 is $130 million. “That’s the minimum. We could use more,” said CFTC Acting Chairman Walter Lukken.

Both Lukken and Chilton are up for renomination to the CFTC. Also appearing before the Senate panel was newcomer Scott O’Malia of Michigan, who was tapped by Bush for a seat on the CFTC in April. All three nominations must be voted out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and approved by the full Senate.

Lukken said the number of staff members at the agency is at a “historic low” of 450. “Since the CFTC opened its doors 33 years ago, the volume on the futures exchanges has grown 8,000% while the CFTC’s staffing numbers have fallen 12%,” he noted. “We certainly need more bodies at the agency.”

More funds and staff are warranted because “at any one time,” the CFTC is investigating 750 to 1,000 people or companies for commodities violations, Chilton told the committee.

Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) asked Chilton whether he could give Congress and the American people the assurance that “another Enron surprise” is not around the corner.

“I can’t, Mr. Chairman,” Chilton responded. Nor, he added, could he tell Harkin “exactly what the reason [is] for the large price movement” in the energy markets.

Lukken was tapped by Bush to be CFTC chairman in June 2007, but he has been serving as acting chairman while awaiting Senate confirmation. He has been with the CFTC since 2002.

Chilton in April was renominated by the White House for a full five-year term. His first term was brief, extending from August 2007 to April of this year.

O’Malia has been nominated to the CFTC for the remainder of a term expiring in April 2012. He currently serves as a clerk on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. Prior to this, he was a staff member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. O’Malia also was director of federal legislative affairs at Mirant Corp. earlier in his career. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

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