Despite being CPAs and preparing thousands of tax returns, have you ever had cause to wonder exactly why some people put what they do on their 1040s under the category “occupation?”

For instance, does Steven Seagal list his primary occupation as “actor?” And if so, my question is, how does that unimaginable stretching of the truth not trigger an audit?

Think passing the CPA exam was tough? Try turning on TBS and avoiding a bad Seagal movie, if you’ll pardon the redundancy. Their program grid should just advertise “all Seagal all the time.” Not to mention all bad.

Ditto for George Tenet at the Central Intelligence Agency. If he puts “intelligence director,” will his next security debriefing be with the Internal Revenue Service? How about former NBA star Charles Barkley, under “analyst?” In my opinion, he would have difficulty analyzing a traffic light, let alone coaching intricacies.

Well, you get the idea.

I guess the above-mentioned examples would beg the larger question of how these dolts could possibly garner plum jobs for which they’re so blatantly under-qualified.

Conversely, the Securities and Exchange Commission seems to have a problem attracting qualified people.

Recently summoned to Capitol Hill to defend the SEC’s $913 million budget request, Chairman William Donaldson was grilled as to why the agency was having trouble filling roughly 425 posts as part of a massive hiring increase.

The SEC’s proposed fiscal 2005 budget — which, incidentally, begins October 1 — is roughly double that of fiscal 2002, when a wave of corporate scandals regularly elbowed their way onto the front pages or the nightly news.

The SEC, at the time, was an underfunded and considerably undermanned agency with a turnover rate exceeded only by the fast food industry. Then-chair Harvey Pitt managed to bungle any appointment of note at the regulator while overtly cozying up to the accounting profession and, in the opinion of many, viewing “independence” as a word that simply followed “Declaration of ... .” It didn’t help that he shamelessly campaigned to elevate his title to cabinet rank, but that’s fodder for another column.

That was in stark contrast to his predecessor, Arthur Levitt, who, despite a diverse concept on how to effectively regulate the markets and the accounting profession, nevertheless suffered the same shortage of manpower.

Fast forward to 2004 — or, more accurately, fiscal 2005.

The White House budget calls for the SEC to receive $893 million. Add to that $20 million left over from 2004 funds earmarked for hires that were not completed, and you have the regulator’s available coffers for recruiting accounting, legal and economic talent. In addition, the SEC benefited from legislation that expedited the usual glacial pace of hiring for civil service posts in order to quickly fill openings.

To be fair, while salaries have increased, a junior accountant is at a pay scale of roughly $70K, and those with 25 or more years of experience can earn close to $190,000 — still below the private sector. Good money, to be sure, but not nearly what a partner at a mid-level firm could earn.

But the SEC needs to staff up — and fairly quickly — if it hopes to carry on a successful battle against corporate malfeasance. Donaldson told Congress that the SEC was not content to simply “fill slots,” but rather to hire well-qualified professionals.

In other words, Steven Seagal need not apply.

Bill Carlino

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