The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board approved a hefty $152.8 million operating budget for itself during 2005 -- an increase that will allow the PCAOB to expand its staff by 50 percent over the coming year. Most of the 150 new staff positions envisioned by the budget plan will be earmarked for an expansion of the PCAOB's team of auditors responsible for conducting inspections of the 1,389 accounting firms that have registered with the board to audit U.S. corporations. Under the new budget plan, the organization will engage in "an aggressive recruiting effort to hire experienced auditors," and by the end of 2005 the total inspection staff is expected to rise by 90 billets to 220, PCAOB chief financial officer Thomas Hohman said in the meeting at which the budget was approved. But even with a 70 percent boost in manpower, the board's inspection staff could be stretched thin next year. "We would like more [experienced auditors on the team], but we recognize this is a very tight employment market," Hohman said in outlining the budget plan to the five-member board. To achieve these recruiting goals, the board must be in a position to offer "outstanding" career advancement opportunities, as well as salary and benefits that are competitive with the private sector, human resources director Sara Bridwell said. Those sentiments were echoed by PCAOB Chairman William McDonough, who expressed appreciation for Congress' decision to allow the board to set staff salary levels high enough to recruit top prospects. Concluding that the PCAOB would not be able to fulfill its Sarbanes/Oxley Act requirements without such compensation flexibility, McDonough said, "I wholeheartedly support the aggressive recruiting effort we have embarked upon." The PCAOB's entire 2005 budget -- which must still be approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission -- will be funded by accounting support fees and other assessments paid by the U.S. and foreign audit firms that the board regulates. Personnel expenses (including training and recruitment costs, as well as salaries and benefits) will account for the lion's share of next year's budget ($98,900,000), with the rest going for information technology-related expenses, consulting fees and the cost of opening new regional offices in Chicago, Denver, and Costa Mesa, Calif., during 2005. At the meeting, the PCAOB also proposed new rules outlining the procedures under which accountants facing disciplinary actions before the board may seek authority to subpoena documents or witnesses for their defense. Under the proposal, parties subject to disciplinary proceedings before the board will have no "entitlement" to subpoena rights, but will be allowed to request a subpoena from the hearing officer assigned to their case. The hearing officer would have discretion to approve the request if he determines that there is a reasonable basis for the subpoena, and that the evidence subpoenaed would be relevant to the board's decision in the case. The SEC, however, would also have to approve the subpoena before it could be issued.

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