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Highlights

Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to help protect investors and restore investor confidence. While the act has generally been recognized as important and necessary, some concerns have been expressed about the cost for small businesses. In this report, GAO (1) analyzes the impact of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act on smaller public companies, particularly in terms of compliance costs; (2) describes responses of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to concerns raised by smaller public companies; and (3) analyzes smaller public companies' access to auditing services and the extent to which the share of public companies audited by mid-sized and small accounting firms has changed since the act was passed.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Securities and Exchange Commission In light of concerns raised by the SEC Advisory Committee on Smaller Public Companies and others regarding the ability of smaller public companies to effectively implement section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Chairman of SEC should assess the guidance available, with an emphasis on implementation guidance for management's assessment of internal control over financial reporting, to determine whether the current guidance is sufficient and whether additional action is needed, such as issuing supplemental or clarifying guidance to help smaller public companies meet the requirements of section 404.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

On June 27, 2007, SEC published interpretive guidance in the Federal Register to help public companies strengthen their internal control over financial reporting while reducing unnecessary costs, particularly at smaller companies. According to SEC Chairman Cox, the interpretive guidance will allow companies of all sizes to scale and tailor their evaluation procedures according to the facts and circumstances. While the guidance is intended to help public companies of all sizes, SEC has stated that smaller companies, which will begin complying with Section 404 in 2007, should specifically benefit from its scalability and flexibility.
United States Securities and Exchange Commission In light of concerns raised by the SEC Advisory Committee on Smaller Public Companies and others regarding the ability of smaller public companies to effectively implement section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Chairman of SEC should coordinate with PCAOB to (1) help ensure that section 404-related audit standards and guidance are consistent with any additional guidance applicable to management's assessment of internal control and (2) identify additional ways in which auditors' can achieve more economical, effective, and efficient implementation of the standards and guidance related to internal control over financial reporting.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

On June 12, 2007, PCAOB issued revised auditing standards for auditors to follow in their section 404 related audit engagements. According to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) and SEC, the revised section 404-related auditing standards were closely aligned with SEC's interpretive guidance on management's review of internal controls to ensure consistency, particularly with regard to prescriptive requirements, definitions, and terms. According to PCAOB, its auditing standard were revised to allow "scaling the 404 audit to account for the particular facts and circumstances of companies, particularly smaller companies." The revised section 404 auditing standards are effective for audits of fiscal years ending on or after November 15, 2007.
United States Securities and Exchange Commission If, in evaluating the recommendations of its advisory committee, SEC determines that additional relief is appropriate beyond the current July 2007 compliance date for non-accelerated filers, the Chairman of SEC should analyze and consider, in addition to size, the unique characteristics of smaller public companies and the knowledge base, educational background, and sophistication of their investors in determining categories of companies for which additional relief may be appropriate to ensure that the objectives of investor protection are adequately met and any relief is targeted and limited.
Closed - Not Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Not Implemented.

SEC adopted regulations in December 2006 that permit smaller public companies--those with $75 million or less of public float--to postpone their first Section 404 audit until the first fiscal year after December 14, 2008 (for calendar year end companies, that would mean March 2009). In response to the recommendations of its advisory committee and others (including GAO), SEC issued interpretive guidance on June 27, 2007, to aid companies, particularly smaller companies, in the evaluation and assessment of internal control over financial reporting. In its press release on the interpretive guidance, SEC indicated no change to the effective compliance date for section 404 implementation for smaller public companies. Additionally, SEC worked with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to ensure that its interpretive guidance was consistent with revision made by PCAOB to its section 404 auditing standards. At this time, it appears that SEC does not plan any additional actions related to the recommendations of its advisory committee regarding section 404 implementation by smaller public companies.

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