o 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).