Overseeing the accounting profession will undoubtedly prove to be tough work. But is it worth $44.9 million per year? The new Public Company Accounting Oversight Board apparently thinks so. That lottery jackpot figure is what it came up with for its 2003 personnel budget.

Let’s see. The staff at the board is expected to eventually top 270 by the end of this year, which adds up to a whopping $224,500 annual salary per employee.

Among the open positions advertised at www.pcaob.kornferry.com are chief auditor, general counsel, director of external communications, and director of human resources. While some of these top-level posts may be worth the loot, I can’t imagine how the board can justify paying support staff like legislative aides or secretaries six-figure salaries.

On the Web site "VOTE.com" this week, visitors were polled on whether the PCAOB’s board members should be paid the $425,000 per year they voted to give themselves. A distinct minority of 7 percent (770 votes) said yes, while 10,282 voted "No."

Those on the pro side said the new board must be able to operate "independently and fearlessly." Offering them such a high salary means they won’t have to work at any other jobs and won’t be prey to attempts to "buy them off by the industry they are regulating."

Of course, how well that has worked at other quasi-governmental entities like the Financial Accounting Standards Board (whose members also earn $425,000 per year) is open for debate.

The majority that voted "No" questioned how the board could justify paying public servants such an "exorbitant" amount. "Public service always comes with a financial penalty," one "no" voter wrote. "Find men and women who aren’t in it for the money to serve."

The "nay" voters have a point. Members of Congress earn $150,000 per year, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court makes $192,000, and even President Bush’s gross pay is just $400,000 per year. Is the mandate of the new board so complex and crucial to the affairs of state that the board needs to offer the highest salaries imaginable to lure people in?

Organized as a private, nonprofit organization, the board will be funded through payments by accountants and public companies, so at least ordinary taxpayers won’t be footing the bill, but in order to be effective and respected this highly-paid organization better get down to work fast, do it right the first time, and deliver results that serve both the profession and the public.



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