A resource-strapped SEC allowed confusion and reckless risk-taking to dominate financial markets, Levitt, who led the agency from 1993 to 2001, told the Senate Banking Committee.
"As the markets grew larger and more complex — in scope and in products offered — the commission failed to keep pace. As the markets needed more transparency, the SEC allowed opacity to reign. As an overheated market needed a strong referee to rein in dangerously risky behavior, the commission too often remained on the sidelines," Levitt said.
His testimony came at a hearing on the roots of the economic crisis.
The SEC says the agency's enforcement staff levels are higher now, and the commission has taken many more enforcement actions, than was the case in the 1990s.
An SEC spokesman said he had no direct comment on Levitt's testimony, but noted that as chairman, Levitt hadn't sought the kind of regulations that he's now faulting the SEC for failing to impose.