The all-new Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is taking a fresh look at whether auditors need new guidance on their required communication with audit committees regarding independence.

The board’s latest standard-setting agenda contains a newly initiated research project on whether the board should consider issuing guidance or revising Rule 3526, which governs when and in what manner auditors should discuss with audit committees their adherence to independence requirements under Rule 3520.

The agenda notes regulatory inspections have raised questions about how firms are executing on the communication requirements “in circumstances in which there has been a relationship that caused a firm not to be independent under PCAOB Rule 3520.” The staff is performing outreach and other research activities, the agenda says. The SEC is also quietly looking at its own independence rules.

That’s the only change so far to the PCAOB’s standard-setting agenda, which is updated quarterly, under the PCAOB’s newly appointed board. With the swearing in of its fifth new board member, Duane DesParte, the PCAOB is back to full strength after a long stretch of uncertain transition. 

DesParte recently retired from Exelon Corp., where he most recently served as corporate controller after 15 years with the company in various financial roles. Before that, he spent nearly 20 years in the audit business, mostly with Arthur Andersen before its collapse under the Enron scandal that ushered in Sarbanes-Oxley.

DesParte joins Chairman William Duhnke, who took the helm at the beginning of 2018 from embattled James Doty after serving well past his term waiting for word from the Securities and Exchange Commission on whether he would be reappointed or replaced. Duhnke was the majority staff director and general counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration before accepting the PCAOB leadership post.

Also recently appointed to the PCAOB are Kathleen Hamm, a former leader at regulatory advisory services firm Promontory Financial Group, J. Robert Brown, who was teaching corporate and securities law at the University of Denver law school when he was tapped, and James Kaiser, a retired PwC audit partner.

The board has only four active standard setting projects on its agenda, which indicates the staff is developing recommendations for board action on auditing accounting estimates, including fair value measurement, and on the auditor’s use of the work of specialists. Both areas have been common problem spots identified in regulatory inspections in recent years.

Also open on the PCAOB’s agenda, the board is considering its next steps in an initiative to beef up supervision of audits involving other auditors and it continues to monitor whether new guidance is warranted on the auditor’s role in alerting investors when there’s a question as to an entity’s ability to remain a going concern.

The board’s research agenda contains four additional projects on quality control standards, uses of data and technology in audits, the auditor’s role with respect to non-GAAP measures, and auditors’ consideration of noncompliance with laws and regulations.