The accounting support fee that public companies and broker-dealers pay to support audit regulation will rise in 2017 by about 6 percent after the Securities and Exchange Commission approved an increased 2017 budget for the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. That follows a 12-percent increase the year before.
Public companies will pay a total of $232.6 million in 2017 to help fund the operations of the PCAOB while an additional $35.4 million will be assessed on registered broker-dealers. The combined $268 million represents about 6 percent more than the support fee of $253.3 million collected in 2016, according to the SEC.
The PCAOB oversees auditors who audit financial statements of both public companies and registered broker-dealers, and its budget must be approved annually by the SEC. The board’s 2017 budget of $268.5 million is 4 percent greater than its 2016 budget of $257.7 million.
The SEC’s decision to approve the PCAOB’s budget was not unanimous, nor was the PCAOB’s own decision internally to ask for an increased budget in 2017. Commissioner Michael Piwowar dissented in the 2-1 SEC vote to approve the budget, and PCAOB member Jay Hanson dissented in the 4-1 internal approval of the budget before passing it on for an SEC vote. Piwowar was also the lone dissenter to the 2016 budget as well.
PCAOB Chairman James Doty said the 2017 budget is not a “growth budget,” as the board is assuming the same headcount next year as it budgeted in 2016. The 4-percent increase instead is focused on recent hires, rent increases, and “standard annual benefit and compensation adjustments,” in addition to other administrative expenses, he said.
“The 2017 budget also reflects a number of actions we have taken to achieve savings and efficiencies, reduce certain cost categories in 2017, and constrain the rate of growth in other areas over the next several years,” Doty said.
Whatever cost containment it represents, it’s not enough in the eyes of Piwowar and Hanson. In objecting to the PCAOB’s budget, Piwowar said he has concerns about the continued escalation of costs at the PCAOB. “Costs continue to increase despite years of promises to finalize a comprehensive compensation framework as well as an evaluation of staffing levels across all offices, divisions, and programs,” he said. “My understanding is that the PCAOB will complete both of these projects prior to the submission of its 2018 preliminary budget. I intend to hold the PCAOB to that promise.”
During the PCAOB’s meeting earlier in December to approve its budget internally, Hanson said he didn’t support the preliminary budget sent to the SEC in July primarily because the “total proposed resources” were too high. The final budget approved by the PCAOB was lower, he said, by approximately $1.8 million.
“Nevertheless, the proposed 2017 budget represents an increase of more than 6.3 percent over the amount we anticipate spending in 2016 and more than 4 percent over the 2016 budget, setting a new high water mark with an accounting support fee of over $267 million,” said Hanson.
While the 2017 budget doesn’t project an increase over the 2016 budgeted headcount of 876, the board operated in 2016 with an average of 845 employees, he said. “I would have preferred that the 2017 budget not include an increase of the existing headcount at the end of 2016, and I question whether an increase of 30 staff above our average level in 2016 is necessary.”