US watchdog stalls on key convergence post

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The US financial watchdog is refusing to say when it will fill a senior post
central to cross-Atlantic negotiations on international accounting convergence.

It is now seven months since Conrad Hewitt stood down as chief accountant of
the Securities and Exchange Commission ­ a critical position at the heart of
global accounting convergence discussions ­ which has fuelled uncertainty about
America’s commitment to global standards.

In a statement an SEC spokesman declined to comment on the ‘status,
requirements or timing’ of the appointment ­ but said candidates were being
considered for positions vacated around the change of administration.

‘Our work on international financial reporting standards issues continues,’
he said.

The SEC’s dithering on Hewitt’s replacement had left observers speculating
about which direction the US will take on IFRS convergence amid fears their
enthusiasm for global standards is beginning to wane. A source close to
convergence discussions in the UK said there had been concerns about the time
being taken to fill the position.

‘There is serious concern that this is taking so long and in particular that
a number of names seem to have been floated around as rumours who would be seen
as real opponents to IFRS and the US moving to IFRS,’ the source said.
‘Fortunately those rumours have subsided.’

Earlier this year rumours that the position would be filled by Charles
Niemeier, described as an outspoken critic of IFRS, were circulating but this
speculation has subsequently died down.

SEC chairman Mary Schapiro has done little to quell fears but she has also
appeared dismissive when asked about her view on a convergence timetable. During
her Senate confirmation hearing in January she said she was ‘not prepared to
delegate standard-setting or oversight responsibility to the IASB’.

A roadmap to convergence by 2014 was announced by her predecessor last
August. The Obama administration’s recent white paper on financial regulatory
reform reiterated the objective for ‘broad convergence’ of US GAAP and IFRS by
the end of 2010.

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