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Enron-O-Rama Continues

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No fewer than 12 Congressional committees on both sides of the Capitol are looking into some aspects of the Enron bankruptcy, including investigation of the company's former auditor, Andersen LLP. A blizzard of competing legislative proposals are pending. To date, none of these affect the Bankruptcy Code, but are instead focused on accounting practices or retirement/pension laws.

Included are proposals to (1) bar accounting firms from providing both audit services and consulting to the same client, (2) create a new public oversight board to regulate the audit industry, (3) enhance regulatory and enforcement powers in the SEC to detect and prosecute fraudulent practices and (4) reform SEC disclosure requirements to address earnings manipulation, off-balance sheet entities, revenue recognition and real-time disclosure of insider stock sales.

Retirement policy ideas floated include: mandated diversification of 401(k) plan accounts, earlier vesting periods for employees to be able to sell employer stock received as matching contributions in a 401(k) plan, limits on management's ability to sell company stock, advance notice to employees of blackout periods when company stock in a 401(k) cannot be sold, PBGC-style insurance to cover financial losses due to breach of fiduciary duty by plan managers, ensuring the independence of company retirement plan administrators that rely heavily on company stock, and company-provided retirement investment education programs, among many other options.

"Act Now to Restore Confidence in Markets," Congress Told

"One out of every two adult Americans has invested in the U.S. capital markets that are the crown jewel of our economy. They have done so because they had trust and confidence in a system that provides the numbers investors need to make wise investment decisions. They have trusted that an independent public watchdog was on the beat. But now that trust lies shattered and will not easily be restored. In the 200-plus-year history of the markets, every time that confidence has been shattered our markets have sustained losses, investors have fled to safer havens and the capital vital to funding American business has dried up. We cannot let that happen again. We must act quickly to make real, not cosmetic, changes that will restore the confidence of investors and the public. The public deserves nothing less from Congress, the accounting profession, regulators, analysts and other members of the financial community." (Statement before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee by Lynn Turner, former chief accountant, Securities and Exchange Commission).

Journal Date: 
Friday, March 1, 2002

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