Just when it seemed things couldn't get any more interesting at the Securities and Exchange Commission, they did.
Current Chairman William Donaldson's decision to leave the commission at the end of the month and President Bush's nomination of California Republican Christopher Cox to take over as the regulator's top cop means even more upheaval at the SEC.
It also means that the Bush administration's commitment to corporate reform will come under scrutiny in the coming weeks.
Donaldson's departure comes as Democratic Commissioner Harvey J. Goldschmid is also leaving the SEC this summer, to return to teaching at Columbia University's law school. The term of the other Democratic commissioner, Roel C. Campos, will expire soon. No word yet on whether Campos would be appointed to another term.
Regardless of what you may think of his 28-month tenure, Donaldson is leaving the SEC a vastly different agency than the one he joined back in 2003, when the White House's focus was on restoring investor faith following the corporate scandals of 2002 and the election-night resignation of former chair Harvey Pitt.
While it received huge funding increases during Donaldson's tenure, the SEC is looking at a smaller budget for fiscal 2006 and is facing a budget shortfall that has led to a Government Accountability Office investigation and an across-the-board cut in its hiring ceilings.
If Cox does get confirmed by the Senate, he will also have to quickly deal with two issues -- the ongoing implementation of Sarbanes-Oxley and the Financial Accounting Standards Board's rule on stock option expensing -- that are sure to serve as an indicator of the direction the SEC would take under his leadership.
While two-and-a-half years ago, Washington's attention was focused on investors' calls for justice, today, those cries are likely to be drowned about by corporate America's pleas for regulators to ease their compliance burden. How Christopher Cox would respond to those calls remains to be seen.
The next several weeks are bound to be anything but business as usual at the SEC.
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