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SEC Approves New PCAOB Chair and Members

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Nov 9, 2021
Erica Y. Williams, who will serve as PCAOB chair

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has approved new members of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), including a new chair, filling the regulator's roster after most of the previous board was dismissed. 

The new chair will be Erica Y. Williams, a former SEC staffer who had previously served as deputy chief of staff to three former SEC chairs and assistant chief litigation counsel in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement trial unit. After leaving the SEC, she served as special assistant and associate counsel to President Barack Obama, with a focus on financial and economic policy issues. Williams will join the PCAOB from law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where she is a litigation partner. 

Joining her will be: 

* Duane M. DesParte, a CPA, who has been serving as acting chair since June; he is the only one of the previous board to continue serving on this one. He was appointed as a member of the PCAOB by the SEC in December 2017 and was sworn in on April 9, 2018. He joined the board after retiring from Exelon Corporation, where he served as chief accounting officer and corporate controller and in other financial roles for 15 years, following an 18-year career in the audit assurance profession.

* Christina Ho, a Deloitte alumna who most recently was vice president of government analytics and innovation at Elder Research, and has previously served several senior positions in the U.S. Treasury Department, including deputy assistant secretary for financial transparency & accounting policy. 

* Kara M. Stein, a former SEC commissioner who served from 2013 to 2019. She currently serves as a distinguished policy fellow and lecturer-in-law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and is director of the AI, Data, and Capital Markets Initiative at the Center on Innovation, University of California Hastings Law. 

* Anthony C. Thompson, who currently serves as the executive director and chief administrative officer of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), where he oversees the Division of Administration. An Air Force veteran, he has served as CFO of several bases as well as chief budget officer for the service branch.  

The SEC in June dismissed the previous chair, William D. Duhnke III, as well as the entire rest of the board save DesParte. The SEC gave no reason for the removal, but it came on the heels of a group of progressive organizations sending a letter to SEC Chair Gary Gensler, calling for him to clean house and remove the entire board, followed by a letter from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) calling for the same. Both letters argued that the board overall had strayed from its purpose, saying that there had been a collapse in enforcement action, a weakening of auditing standards and a dearth of outside engagement due to the shuttering of important advisory bodies. The senators' letter also mentioned the departure of senior staff, and an overall "sense of fear" that has taken hold in the organization, largely due to the chairman. 

Citing a 2019 whistleblower letter purporting to be from a group of current and former employees, Bloomberg Businessweek  added that Duhnke was also the target of numerous complaints from rank-and-file workers. The letter charged that he was behind a rash of firings when he first came in and that he walled off his office suite away from staff. In addition, a wrongful termination suit brought by the PCAOB's former chief administrative officer accused him of targeting Democratic staff members and using racial slurs when speaking of COVID-19. Duhnke not only denied the accusations, he filed a complaint of his own against the former CAO, accusing her of expensing personal items. 

SEC Chair Gary Gensler said he felt confident about the new board. “The PCAOB was formed in response to a crisis of confidence in the corporate disclosures of issuers after the WorldCom and Enron accounting scandals nearly 20 years ago. Finance is about trust, and the PCAOB has a critical role to play in ensuring that public company financial disclosures can be trusted by investors,” he said. “With these additions to the Board, the PCAOB will have the leadership to meet the mission given to it by Congress. Erica, Christina, Kara, and Tony have demonstrated deep commitment to public service. They will represent the interests of investors and the public at the PCAOB. I would like to thank Duane DesParte for his valuable service as acting chairperson during the last several months, and I am pleased that he will stay on as a key member of the Board.”

Until the new chair is sworn in, DesParte will remain acting chair. 

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