Have you ever monitored the progress of a large municipal construction project and noted how many times the completion deadline is pushed back?

It would be too easy to single out Boston's "Big Dig" as an example, as that mammoth debacle has carved out a whole other category in terms of excess and waste, but I think you get my drift.

How about deadlines in the regulatory arena?

Without much argument, you could lump the deadline for smaller filers to be compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404 in this category. The final date for compliance for smaller companies has been delayed more often than the New York-to-Atlanta flight out of La Guardia.

Now, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox has again pushed back the internal controls provision six months, to fiscal years ending on or after Dec. 15, 2007, while full compliance won't be required until the company's first annual report for a fiscal year ending on, or after Dec. 15, 2008.

A host of foreign companies will get a full year's reprieve, as auditors won't have to attest to internal controls in their annual reports until fiscal years ending on or after July 15, 2007.

Naturally, the decision was hailed as a victory for smaller public companies, while investor advocates pointed out that prolonging the compliance deadline would do little but allow existing problems to worsen.

An advisory group appointed by the SEC had earlier advised the regulator to exempt smaller filers from the 404 provisions, which Cox and the commission rejected.

Cox explained that the delay was part of "efforts to be sensitive and responsive to the particular needs of smaller public companies."

Now, I don't for a second doubt that the burdens of 404 on smaller companies were proportionally higher than for those in the Fortune 1000, but conversely, there are far more instances of financial reporting and accounting fraud at small-cap filers than at their larger siblings.

Also, think about this for a moment: The December 2008 date will be, more than six years after SOX was officially signed into law by President Bush! How many more reprieves can you give smaller companies to get into 404 compliance before people begin to question your agency's commitment?

Cox and the SEC are to be commended for sticking to the principles of SOX and not caving in to pressure from various special interest groups with regards to any rollbacks or relaxations of the reform act.

Hopefully, this will be the last extension. Any more and a Friday evening flight out of La Guardia will begin to look punctual.

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