As I do with frequent - some say annoying - regularity in this space, I have made my position quite clear on my confidence level about the government being able to run anything efficiently, let alone without an accompanying sea of red ink. If they were to suddenly privatize and become the sole suppliers of central air conditioning units in Phoenix, they would go broke. A government-sponsored study to determine whether McDonald's sells hamburgers would probably take years to complete.Well, you get my point.
It seems a conservative Washington insider and member of the free-market think tank the American Enterprise Institute has called for House lawmakers to dismantle the toddler-age Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and basically hand the job over to the Securities and Exchange Commission, like some bureaucratic baton.
A paper from the brainy consortium of economists has called for the proverbial soaping of the windows of the PCAOB within a five-year period and, yes, having another branch of the government take control of its mission of policing the accounting profession.
"Congress must take steps to gain control of the PCAOB," wrote Peter Wallison, who is listed as a resident fellow at the AEI on its Web site. "The simplest and most effective method would be to fold it into the SEC."
Does anyone here sense a purchase order for a $200 screwdriver or the umpteenth rate hike for postage stamps over a 10-year period?
Chief among his complaints is the fact that the PCAOB's proposed budget is up 35 percent from its 2004 levels, and that its per-employee spending is roughly twice that of the National Association of Securities Dealers - the organization that oversees the nation's securities firms.
In a statistical comparison, the conservative critic noted that the NASD's budget stood at about $400 million, and the organization fielded a staff of 2,000 to oversee some 5,200 brokerage firms. In contrast, the PCAOB had about 260 employees to regulate the over-1,400 accounting firms that have thus far registered with the oversight body.
Now, it's no secret that the PCAOB's hiring hall has seen some slower-than-expected traffic - particularly with respect to experienced auditors. But what's overlooked is that the NASD is more than 60 years old, and the PCAOB still has training wheels. A mature organization, whether a regulator or a public issuer, will always be more streamlined and efficient than one still in its relative infancy.
Now, Wallison's pedigree is impressive. Acclaimed as an expert on banking and financial services law, he served as general counsel of the Treasury in the mid-1980s, where he played a significant role in developing deregulation proposals for the Reagan administration, and later served as counsel to Reagan himself.
And to be fair, one of his complaints was about Congress working to keep accountants from obtaining a majority of seats on the PCAOB board, thereby reducing the threat of partisan influence. And with regard to public companies, he referred to that as a "prescription for trouble."
But he is obviously not a fan of independent oversight of the accounting profession, and has determined that this is a job for the government.
But judging from the track record of the management expertise on Capitol Hill, many in the profession, I'm sure, would beg to differ.
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