It's hard to say whether this is good news or bad for accountants. As late as yesterday, Washington insiders expected the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would be Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, the former prosecutor who delivered the death sentence to Arthur Andersen in connection with the Enron obstruction-of-justice case. But Mr. Chertoff has said he is happy with the job he has.
Since Enron filed for bankruptcy almost a year ago, Mr. Chertoff has been in charge of investigations into accounting scandals involving publicly traded companies. A formidable foe for any defendant, Mr. Chertoff was the chief counsel who ran the Senate Whitewater investigation into former President Bill Clinton's land dealings with a failed Arkansas savings and loan association. He has also successfully prosecuted a wide range of cases, winning convictions against organized crime figures such as Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, as well as consumer electronics retailer "Crazy Eddie" Antar and Judge Sol Wachtler who pleaded guilty to harassing his ex-lover.
There have been reports that the White House is leaning toward a candidate from government because the person would be less subject to criticism for past business ties and because it would expedite the selection process. Government officials have already been through background checks, while business leaders have not.
Other names said to be under consideration include federal attorney James Comey, Stanford University professor Joseph Grundfest, former Nasdaq Chairman Frank Zarb, and former Pfizer CEO William Steere, as well as Robert Glauber, chairman of the National Association of Securities Dealers and a former top Treasury Department official in the first Bush administration, and Mary Schapiro, NASD vice chairman and former SEC commissioner.
There are also reports that Commissioner Paul Atkins, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, might be named interim chairman and that he could also be under consideration for the permanent post.