The Pitiful Harvey Pitt

Someone should buy Harvey Pitt a ticket on the Clue Bus.

He's George W's hand-picked chairman of the SEC, the watchdog agency that is supposed to protect the public from unethical practices by big accounting firms. But Harvey can't seem to get the hang of being on the public's side.

Having spent his career as a pit-bull lawyer for the very firms he's now supposed to regulate, Pitt uses a light hand in dealing with his former-employers, saying that he prefers accommodation to regulation. He's so accommodating that he even got caught holding closed door meetings with accounting executives he previously represented -- executives who have regulatory cases pending before him.

But then came the accounting scandals of the past year, including the criminal conviction, disgrace and demise of Pitt's former client, Arthur Anderson, Inc. Suddenly, with thousands of investors devastated by accountants' finagling and flimflamming, Harvey's laissez-faire approach wasn't getting the job done.

So Congress passed some reforms and created a new Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. John Biggs, a respected pension-fund manager who supports more stringent rules to stop the thievery, was in line to head the new board -- and Pitt himself told Biggs that he supported his appointment. However, Harvey has now backed off, recently telling Biggs not to count on him.

Was there something wrong with Biggs? No ... with Pitt. When his chain was yanked by the big accounting firms, he suffered yet another spell of EWS -- Ethical Weaseliness Syndrome. Accounting executives and lobbyists flocked to the White House, Congress and Harvey's office to complain that Biggs would be too tough on them ... so Pitt meekly came to heel. What we have here is another attempt by Bush & Company to pose publicly as reformers, then quietly try to gut the reforms by letting industry control the reform boards.

We should keep Biggs, and punt Pitt. Harvey is a pitiful excuse for a public servant, and it's time for him to go.

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