In response to the recent action of the Department of Justice (DOJ) against Arthur Andersen LLP, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has released guidance, consisting of a package of rules, hotlines and email addresses for use by investors, clients, and other audit firms.
The SEC's guidance provides helpful reassurance to investors and clients who may have been confused or influenced by the publicity surrounding the DOJ's unprecedented action. CNN Correspondent Lou Dobbs has characterized the recent events and accompanying publicity as "one of the worst examples of a press and political feeding frenzy in years."
Essentially, the SEC is reassuring investors and clients that it is continuing to accept filings with financial statements audited by Andersen. Andersen has assured the SEC it will continue to audit financial statements in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards (GAAS) and applicable professional and firm auditing standards, including quality control standards. The firm has also agreed to provide similar representations for issuers whose audit reports are signed after March 14, 2002, and these representations must generally be included in the filings.
Andersen clients with audits currently in process may submit unaudited financial statements in their SEC filings, if they decide to switch auditors. But they will generally be required to amend their filings within 60 days to include audited financial statements. The SEC emphasized that it is not encouraging Andersen clients to switch auditors, and it stressed that companies should make their own independent decisions. The option of providing unaudited statements is intended to provide neutral flexibility.
Investors with questions should call the Commission's Office of Investor Education at 1-800-SEC-0330 or e-mail the office at email@example.com. Issuers with questions regarding Securities Act or Exchange Act filings should call the Division of Corporation Finance's hotline at 202-942-2816 or e-mail the Division at firstname.lastname@example.org. Auditors with transition questions may call the Office of the Chief Accountant at 202-942-4400 or e-mail the office at email@example.com.
Read the SEC's full release.