The Securities and Exchange Commission is strengthening its program to oversee holding companies with large and well-capitalized broker-dealers in the wake of the downfall of Bear, Stearns & Co. and would like Congress to legislatively authorize the program, which is currently carried out under rules, an SEC official told lawmakers yesterday.

"It's for you to decide" whether firms should be mandated to comply with the program, Erik Sirri, director of the SEC's trading and markets division, told a Senate Banking Committee panel. Currently the nation's four largest investment banks - Goldman, Sachs & Co., Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch & Co., and Morgan Stanley - only voluntarily participate in the program that was set up in 2004 and 2005, he said.

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