Table: Pitt's Agenda
Here are the SEC chief's plans to tackle the difficult issues facing his agency--and whether they'll do the trick
PROBLEM: Largely self-regulatory system for disciplining accountants and firms is slow and ineffectual.
PITT'S PLAN: Set up a new oversight board funded by levies on audit firms, pension funds, and others that rely on audits to monitor quality and ethics.
VERDICT: A good start, but an effective board needs subpoena power and independence from accounting firms.
PROBLEM: Auditors tend to go easy on clients that buy their consulting services.
PITT'S PLAN: Bar a company's external auditors from monitoring ongoing financial procedures such as purchasing and expenses. Let audit committee decide if they can also consult on tax and corporate strategy and computer systems.
VERDICT: Too weak: Auditors should be prohibited from selling most consulting services to clients.
PROBLEM: The Financial Accounting Standards Board is slow to issue and clarify its rules.
PITT'S PLAN: Push FASB to move faster and speak plainly.
VERDICT: SEC has good intentions, but follow-through is critical.
PROBLEM: Too often, execs soft-pedal risks to investors.
PITT'S PLAN: Make execs affirm in writing that they've disclosed the risks in their books to investors.
VERDICT: Lawyers will find loopholes.
INSIDER STOCK SALES
PROBLEM: Execs don't have to report stock sales for up to 13 months.
PITT'S PLAN: Force them to disclose stock sales within 48 hours.
VERDICT: A long-overdue improvement.
PROBLEM: Investors may not know when a company's financial health falters.
PITT'S PLAN: Make companies file quarterly and annual reports faster and insist they spell out strategy and key accounting issues. Require notice to the SEC of events like ethics waivers, off-balance-sheet deals.
VERDICT: Good moves, but SEC will have to make sure lawyers don't water down statements.
PROBLEM: Impunity. Corporate miscreants often go on to new jobs at public companies. And it's too easy for executives to pocket bonuses and option rewards based on inflated earnings and stock prices.
PITT'S PLAN: Winning SEC power to ban corporate wrongdoers from serving as officers or directors. Force execs to give back gains based on inflated earnings.
VERDICT: Congress is likely to pass the ban, but the SEC will have to prove ill-gotten pay was fraudulent to make penalties stick in court.
PROBLEM: The SEC is understaffed, and its lawyers and accountants underpaid.
PITT'S PLAN: Boost the SEC budget by $91 million, to $558 million
VERDICT: Makes sense. The White House has approved only a $15 million budget hike, but Congress may up Pitt's ante and vote for more.