Lately, the costs of placing help-wanted ads have waned considerably at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Last month, the commission tapped former banking regulator Mark W. Olson to chair the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, replacing the void left by the departure of William McDonough.

Then, last week, it confirmed rumors that a former Ernst & Young partner and superintendent of banking in California, Conrad Hewitt, would become its chief accountant, a post that had been vacant nearly 10 months.

You could also make a strong argument that the SEC has a penchant for offering its highest-level jobs to former banking regulators, but I digress.

As chief accountant, Hewitt is charged with overseeing and enforcing accounting and auditing policies related to public companies and their accounting firms.

He also has to be the final voice in any dispute over standards interpretation. He is, to quote one firm head, "The most powerful accountant in the world."

Now while the new chief accountant has inarguably carved out a distinguished career both as a CPA and a regulator, his name is not one normally associated with high-level accounting issues.

In addition, the landscape has changed a wee bit since he left E&Y and his position as California's top financial regulator, 11 years and eight years ago, respectively.

One of his duties at the SEC will be to spearhead the commission's work implementing Sarbanes-Oxley 404, a regulatory mandate under no small cloud of controversy and resistance in recent months, as well as other efforts, such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board's push to scale down the complexity of current accounting standards.

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox deployed the traditional boilerplate language with regard to Hewitt's job description, such as "maintaining integrity in the global marketplace," and "practiced judgment."

He will no doubt be saddled with the job as de facto pitchman in promoting the convergence of international accounting standards. And to be sure, other issues such as options backdating will no doubt be part of his welcoming package.

He comes to the SEC at a time when financial reporting is undergoing sea changes. The spate of corporate scandals has ushered in more stringent and much-needed regulation, but conversely, it has also made those in the financial reporting chain fearful that any judgment calls stand a greater chance of being second-guessed.

But Hewitt's experience as a board member and audit committee chair of a number of public and private companies will likely serve as a solid foundation for both upcoming challenges and his overall tenure.

We'll see.

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