By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Monday confirmed former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White as the new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the agency tasked with policing Wall Street and writing new rules of the road for financial markets.
White received wide bipartisan support in the Senate thanks to her reputation as a tough former Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where she went after mobsters and terrorists.
White was nominated in January by President Barack Obama, roughly a month after SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro stepped down from the post.
She sailed through her March 12 confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee and received little opposition on March 19 when the panel voted 21-1 to send her confirmation to the full Senate.
"The SEC needs a strong leader in place as it works to implement Wall Street Reform, and that is exactly what the commission is getting with Mary Jo White," said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson in a statement.
"After meeting her, listening to her testimony, and closely reviewing her qualifications, it came as no surprise that she received such overwhelming bipartisan support for her confirmation."
White will be taking over at the SEC at a critical time. The agency still has much work remaining as it seeks to finalize rules required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, particularly in the areas of over-the-counter derivatives and credit-rating agencies.
The agency is also behind on completing capital-raising rules required by more recent legislation, the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which relaxes certain securities regulations to help small businesses raise funds and go public.
The SEC has been stuck in a rut since Schapiro left in December, leaving the five-member panel divided between two Democrats and two Republicans.
Since then, the SEC has done little in the way of rule making.
What little criticism White has received so far has mostly been about her ties to Wall Street.
After working as a prosecutor, she became a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton where she represented high-profile clients, including JPMorgan Chase & Co, former Bank of America Corp CEO Ken Lewis, UBS AG and accounting giant Deloitte & Touche LLP.
Some, including Ohio Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown, have raised concerns that this "Wall Street bias" could harm the SEC, an agency that has been accused by some of striking weak settlements with Wall Street banks over their behavior during the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
Little is also known thus far about White's views on securities regulatory policy and how she will direct critical rule-making, including a controversial plan to reform the $2.6 trillion money market fund industry.
The Senate's vote on Monday only allows for White to fill out the remainder of Schapiro's term, which expires in June 2014.
Obama had nominated White to both fill out Schapiro's term and also to serve a full, five-year term at the helm of the SEC.
It is unclear exactly when the Senate will take a vote on the longer-term nomination, although some aides have said it will possibly come up later after Obama nominates two new commissioners to replace Elisse Walter and Troy Paredes.
Walter, a Democrat who is serving as SEC chairman until White takes over, is working past her expired term and can only stay until the end of the year.
Paredes, a Republican, is facing the end of his term this coming June.
(Reporting by Rachelle Younglai and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Sandra Maler and Andre Grenon)