Law-Makers Draft Toughest Accounting Reform Bill Yet
Differences of opinion between House Democrats and Republicans have resulted in the introduction of a second bill in the House Financial Services Committee. Known as the Comprehensive Investor Protection Act (CIPA), this new proposal is the toughest accounting reform bill yet. It was the result of close coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and it is supported by the AFL-CIO, consumer groups, and former SEC Chief Accountant Lynn Turner.
Among other things, CIPA would:
- Create a Public Accountability Board with a 7-member majority selected from the public and the remaining 6 members drawn from groups representing institutional investors and pension funds.
- Empower the Board to conduct reviews of audits and audit firms, institute disciplinary actions and set standards for quality control of audits, auditor independence, and ethics.
- Impose tougher legal penalties on auditors by restoring joint and several liability in certain circumstances and restoring the aiding and abetting liability for accountants and outside professionals.
- Require the SEC to review more filings more systematically based on a risk-rating system that uses analytics (such as price-earnings ratios) to determine the frequency of reviews.
- Restrict auditors from providing a list of specified nonaudit services and require audit committee approval of any nonaudit services not listed in the bill, such as tax services.
- Require a 4-year rotation of auditors, with the possibility of one 4-year extension, if approved by the Public Accounting Regulatory Board.
- Require audit committees to meet quarterly with auditors and have an opportunity to do so outside the presence of management.
- Require a 2-year cooling off period for certain former auditor employees before they could work for an audit client.
- Prohibit directors from providing consulting services to the companies on whose boards they sit.
- Double the resources for SEC’s Division of Enforcement, Corporation Finance, and Office of the Chief Accountant.
- Set restrictions on security analysts to prevent conflicts of interest.
In introducing the bill, Representative John LaFalce said, the reforms are not "cosmetic" and do not "paper over the problem." Georgetown University law professor Donald Langevoort told Reuters, "If it were just the little guy who got trounced [by the Enron collapse], we would simply get cosmetic changes. But this has hurt more than the little guy."