WASHINGTON -- The Securities and Exchange Commission would have difficulty regulating the ratings agencies, a Moody's Investors Service official said Friday.

Rating municipal bond offerings is not an exact science, which would make it difficult for the SEC to give ratings agencies a checklist to follow when evaluating a municipality's Credit risk, said Daniel Heimowitz, Moody's executive vice president and director of public finance.

He made his comments during a panel discussion at the American Society for Public Administration's conference on public budgeting and financial management.

In late August, the SEC requested comment "on the appropriate role of ratings in the federal securities laws, and the need to establish formal procedures for designating and monitoring the activities of nationally recognized statistical organizations."

Moody's has not deci regulation and has not filed comments, Heimowitz said. Comments are due by the end of November.

"There are important issues that may be easier to deal with than others, like the obligation to the investor and the disclosure of ratings. Then there are more complex issues about defining what a rating agency is and what they do and the qualifications," Heimowitz said.

Once the SEC has gotten past defining what a rating agency is, it's not really clear whether the commission will try to regulate the ratings agencies, he said.

"The independence of the ratings agencies and resistance to political pressures -- those are the things that we rely on, keep us diligent in what we do, rather than some list that someone might come up with and what might define what we are supposed to look at. We think the discipline of the market is the best guide," Heimowitz said.

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