The Securities and Exchange Commission is closing in on an early Christmas present for corporate critics of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act - a new plan that would reduce the compliance problems associated with the legislation's prickly Section 404 auditing requirements.But the expected reforms - which are scheduled for public consideration at an SEC meeting in mid-December - are not likely to quiet the chorus of criticism from Congress and the wider business community that blames SOX for making American capital markets uncompetitive, driving stock listings overseas and creating massive new costs for small companies.

For three years now, both the SEC and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board have been wrestling with a series of problems associated with Section 404 - the thorny provisions of SOX that call for new federal rules requiring public companies to include assessments of internal controls in their annual reports.

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