US SEC accepting nominations for new head of accounting oversight board

  • Business
  • Wednesday, 05 Mar 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Securities and Exchange Commission announced it is accepting nominations for a new head of the agency created by Congress in response to the wave of corporate accounting scandals. 

The independent board set up to oversee the accounting industry has gotten a rocky start. 

Its first chairman, former FBI Director William Webster, resigned in November in a flap over his watchdog role at a company now facing fraud accusations and his selection by the SEC. 

The handling of Webster's selection by then-SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt was a factor in Pitt's pressured resignation. 

The SEC's new chairman, William H. Donaldson, said at his Senate confirmation hearing that his highest priority is naming a new permanent head of the accounting oversight board, and he reaffirmed that in a statement Tuesday. 

The SEC will accept nominations for the position through March 14, seeking recommendations on potential candidates from lawmakers, investor advocates, business executives and academics. 

Candidates will undergo a thorough background review. 

The oversight board, with power to issue subpoenas and discipline auditors, will begin inspecting accounting firms in the coming months - starting with the so-called Big Four firms that remain after the demise of Enron auditor Arthur Andersen, the board's temporary chairman said in January. 

At a meeting Tuesday, the board voted to recommend that foreign accounting firms that audit companies trading in the United States be required to register with the board and subject to its oversight authority.  

The SEC is expected to approve the proposal. 

The recent accounting scandal at Dutch supermarket company Ahold has focused attention on problems at foreign corporations akin to the debacles at Enron, WorldCom and other big U.S. companies. 

In one of their first formal decisions, the four current board members voted themselves individual salaries of $452,000 a year, a move that brought criticism from some lawmakers and others. 

The Senate approved a measure that would have cut the salaries to $400,000 - what President George W. Bush earns annually - but it later died in the House. 

The permanent chairman will be paid $556,000 a year. 

The board's temporary chairman is Charles Niemeier, until recently chief accountant of the SEC's enforcement division. 

The other members are Willis Gradison Jr., a former Republican congressman from Ohio; former SEC general counsel Daniel Goelzer; and Kayla Gillan, a former official of the California state pension fund. - AP 

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