More years ago than I now care to remember (hint: L.B.J. was President), I was busily hurrying to complete a 6th grade math test. Why I was so frenzied that I eschewed all traditional forms of copy editing and fact checking, I can't recall. But I do remember what my teacher told me.
"William, (for some inexplicable reason no teacher up until the 10th grade ever referred to me as 'Bill'), if you rush through things, in the long run it'll end up costing you more time. Life is not a sprint but a marathon."
I knew what a sprint was, and had heard vague references to a marathon. After some quick research in Webster's I was shocked to discover that a marathon was actually a 26.2-mile race, which at the time was roughly the distance from our house in Queens to my grandmother's home in Yonkers. As a fidgety 11-year old, I couldn't begin to envision someone running that distance, and certainly didn't have the requisite level of patience to set my schoolwork or test-taking at that deliberate pace.
Fast forward about three decades.
Currently, the credibility of the accounting profession and investor skepticism are at dangerously low and high levels, respectively.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is minus a chairman and the new Public Company Accounting Oversight Board -- a body charged with disciplining and reviewing accounting firms-- for the time being also finds itself sans chairman.
And no matter how quickly the profession and the investing public wants it to turn around, one thing is for certain: reform is going to be a long, slow, haul.
Because of the Marx Brothers-like scenarios that have played out recently at the SEC, the investing public has retracted its "benefit of the doubt" clause. And can you blame them? Washington seems far more preoccupied with the machinations of a country 8,000 miles away and campaign finance reform than with restoring faith in the public markets and ensuring accounting reform.
The first order of business will be to appoint a true bipartisan reformer as SEC chair, with a clear mission statement of distancing the regulator from any Capitol Hill influence, something that arguably, was non-existent in the previous agency administration.
The agency also must get the increased funding necessary to do their job. And that's not wishful thinking -- a significant budget hike is actually mandated under Sarbanes-Oxley.
But even so, it will be a gritty and unglamorous road ahead. There aren't any angles or shortcuts, so don't waste time looking for any.
I painfully learned over 30 years ago that rushing through something wound up costing me far more in long run. I didn't need to learn that lesson twice.
I hope those responsible for accounting reform don't either.
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