The Securities and Exchange Commission has scheduled a vote for next Wednesday on whether to begin requiring companies to file financial statements in an interactive data format.

The SEC originally issued a proposal in May for companies to begin filing financial reports in Extensible Business Reporting Language format. The requirement was supposed to apply initially to approximately 500 of the largest public companies with a worldwide public float of over $5 billion. They were supposed to begin filing in XBRL format for fiscal periods ending in late 2008. XBRL promises to make financial statements easier for investors and analysts to compare across companies and industries.

However, the SEC received a barrage of comments from companies and organizations concerned about the high cost of converting to XBRL technology, especially as the economic crisis deepened. As the mandate is being voted on late in the year, it likely won't apply until late next year. But SEC Chairman Christopher Cox has made XBRL filing one of his priorities, and he is expected to leave the commission at the end of the Bush administration. He has also started a 21st Century Disclosure Initiative that will leverage XBRL technology to make the Edgar database and future financial repositories more interactive.

The XBRL transition will be phased in according to company size. "The commission will consider whether to adopt amendments to provide for companies' financial statement information to be filed with the commission in interactive data format, according to a specified phase-in schedule," said the meeting announcement.

At the same meeting, the SEC commissioners also plan to vote on whether to require fund risk and return summary information to be filed in XBRL format. The commission will also consider whether to adopt amendments to permit investment companies to submit portfolio holdings information under the commission's voluntary XBRL program without being required to submit other financial information.

The SEC will also consider whether to adopt amendments that would define terms related to annuity contracts under the Securities Act of 1933, and whether to adopt amendments related to periodic reporting requirements under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

In addition, the SEC will vote on whether to approve the 2009 budget for the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and to consider a related annual accounting support fee for the board.

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