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In response to the July 14, 1988, request of the former Chairman, we have reviewed complaints by regular users of the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) public reference room in Washington, D.C., stemming from SEC changes in public access rules. We have also examined related legal issues. We found that SEC has continued to adjust reference room operating procedures. The changes made have been consistent with applicable laws, regulations, and court decisions.

Background

The SEC is mandated by law to disseminate information to the public. It operates public reference facilities containing current and historical corporate filings (documents disclosing material financial and other information companies must file with the SEC), SEC releases, and other public documents in paper and microfiche format. At these facilities, the public may inspect documents and obtain copies for a fee.

The reference room in Washington, D.C., is used primarily by employees of companies (called regular users) who research and sell copies of and information from corporate filings and other documents.

In June 1988, SEC eliminated public access to the microfiche files maintained in its reference room. This resulted in an outcry from regular users who also raised questions about the legality of SEC's actions.

Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology

As agreed with the Subcommittee, our objectives were to (1) identify the
concerns of regular users of SEC's Washington, D.C., public reference
room, (2) obtain SEC staff views on these concerns, (3) provide any
observations and recommendations we had on areas of concern, and (4)
identify and give opinions on relevant legal issues.

We interviewed regular users of the reference room, employees of SEC's contractor for producing microfiche copies of filings, and SEC staff

responsible for the operation of the reference room. We reviewed reference room rules and procedures, applicable statutes, relevant court decisions and regulations, and observed the operation of the reference room. We did our initial work in August 1988 and we resumed work in November 1988 after additional SEC rules changes became effective. We completed our work in early February 1989. We did our review in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Appendix I contains further discussion of our review objectives, scope, and methodology and provides additional background information on the operation of the reference room.

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