Mary Schapiro, a top brokerage regulator tapped to head the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), is likely to promote an overhaul of the nation's financial-market regulations, including a possible merger of the SEC with the agency that oversees commodities trading.

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Mary Schapiro, a top brokerage regulator tapped to head the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), is likely to promote an overhaul of the nation’s financial-market regulations, including a possible merger of the SEC with the agency that oversees commodities trading.

President-elect Obama announced Schapiro’s choice as SEC chairwoman at a Chicago news conference Thursday, saying she will provide “new ideas, new reforms and new spirit of accountability.”

Obama also named Gary Gensler, a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary, to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which oversees $5 trillion in trades.

In making the announcements, Obama used the example of Wall Street money-manager Bernard Madoff, under investigation in an alleged $50 billion fraud, and said the scandal underscored the need for tougher regulators. It “has reminded us yet again of how badly reform is needed,” he said.

The president-elect said his team will help put in place new rules that will help “crack down on the culture of greed and scheming.”

“There needs to be a shift in ethics on Wall Street,” he said.

Schapiro, 53, will inherit an agency that’s become a flash point for criticism of the government’s failure to prevent the financial-market meltdown.

The SEC is under fire for not halting the collapse of two of the nation’s biggest investment banks and missing a $50 billion fraud.

“It’s going to be a tough job,” said Donald Langevoort, a former SEC attorney. “She’s going to have to communicate that the commission can keep up with the industry and not be in the position it’s been in the last few years of apologizing for discovering problems long after they occurred.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Schapiro will take over an agency that current Chairman Christopher Cox said neglected to act for almost a decade on “credible and specific” accusations of wrongdoing by Madoff.

Cox and the SEC, which regulates brokers, stock exchanges, money managers and public companies, were already under attack by lawmakers for lax oversight of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, which failed this year.

A former SEC commissioner, Schapiro now heads the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which inspects more than 5,000 brokerages, writes rules for those selling securities and imposes sanctions.

Schapiro, whose SEC biography shows she is a political independent, would be the first woman nominated as the permanent leader in the agency’s 74-year history.

In 1994, then-President Clinton named her to lead the CFTC, which regulates trading in everything from orange juice to foreign currencies.

“Her foremost challenge will be resuscitating the image of the SEC as a vigorous protector of investors and capital markets,” said James Cox, a law professor at Duke University.

The SEC engaged in political battles in recent years, particularly under Cox’s predecessor, William Donaldson. Donaldson, a Republican who stepped down in 2005, sided with the agency’s two Democrats in approving rules for hedge funds and stiffer corporate fines that divided the commissioners.

Cox sought to eliminate disputes by advocating policies and enforcement actions that would produce unanimous votes, and deferring issues that would split the commission.

As an independent, Schapiro may have more success bridging the divide, said Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry group.

The choice shows “Obama is tracking a centrist course,” Bartlett said.

Schapiro has shown aplomb as a regulator. When she became CFTC head 14 years ago, then-Chicago Board of Trade President Thomas Donovan said he wouldn’t be “intimidated by some blond, 5-foot-2-inch girl.”

Schapiro replied: “I’m 5-foot-5.”