I sometimes recall the words of my high school football coach, who used to lecture ego-bloated players who freely boasted about the scope of their abilities, "Don't tell me, show me."
My former coach, admittedly not the sharpest tool in the drawer (most likely, we speculated, a side effect of playing too many games with a flimsy helmet) probably couldn’t tell you what SEC stood for, let alone explain what the financial watchdog actually does.
Nevertheless, he would probably tell members of the regulator the same thing he told his players back on those dry, dust-choked fields on Long Island in the early 1970s: "Show me.’
Now years of wailing and countless reports chronicling the funding and human resources woes of the SEC can, for the most part, be at least temporarily, muted.
Because of President Bush’s $2.2 trillion-dollar budget for 2004, the agency is slated to receive some $841 million in funding for fiscal 2004, which kicks off Oct. 1.
The regulator in turn said it would be able to add over 700 eager, new staff, many of whom will be accountants, so they can really ferret out this corporate fraud stuff.
For years, the regulator had been both fiscally and physically anemic. Its funding has been light years away from its workload and, to say the least, has not been commensurate with the growth of the securities markets.
The budget booster shot comes as William Donaldson awaits Senate confirmation as SEC chair. Donaldson should be confirmed despite some fairly large questions regarding a series of floor trading scandals on his watch as chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
But once confirmed, Donaldson has to, in short order, name a chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and eventually a permanent chief accountant – as both positions were casualties of the bizarre and sometimes laughable chain of events emanating from SEC headquarters during the Harvey Pitt administration.
The increased funding was years overdue and certainly vital in terms of enhancing the agency’s enforcement capabilities, but the reality check will be what the SEC does with its long-sought-after largess.
Money is much like a football in that it’s far more important and easier to evaluate what you do with it after it’s in your hands.
To help restore the nation’s confidence in the financial markets not to mention the accounting profession, let’s hope the SEC takes its windfall and runs like Jerry Rice -- not Jerry Lewis.
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