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Signs of rift within SEC

Washington, Oct. 8: Scrambling to stamp out a political firestorm, Harvey L. Pitt, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, abruptly postponed a scheduled trip to Europe on Monday to search for candidates to fill the new board that will oversee the accounting profession.

But signs emerged that the commission is deeply fractured over the selection process.

The two Democratic commissioners, Roel C. Campos and Harvey J. Goldschmid, continued to urge the selection of John H. Biggs, a pension fund executive, to head the board, though Pitt has expressed reservations about his candidacy, commission officials and others involved in the selection process said Monday.

They said that Pitt, who last month personally informed Biggs that he supported him for the job after telling the other commissioners that he intended to take such a step, reversed himself last Tuesday.

The New York Times reported that day that the job had been offered to Biggs by SEC officials and that he had indicated he would accept it. After the article appeared, Pitt issued a statement saying that the full commission had not formally concluded its selection of members for the new Public Co. Accounting Oversight Board.

Earlier, Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, along with accounting industry executives had objected that Biggs might be too aggressive a regulator.

Pitt, Campos and Goldschmid declined to comment about the commission’s efforts to fill the new board. But in a letter on Monday to top Democratic lawmakers in the House, Pitt said that he wanted to preserve the SEC’s prerogatives in the appointment process.

“As for false stories planted in the press, intended to pressure our agency to select a specific candidate—Biggs—as the first chairman of the board, I do not intend to allow either this agency, or the commissioners, to be coerced into selecting, or rejecting, any candidate for board membership, simply because a publicly orchestrated campaign has been undertaken,”' Pitt wrote.

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