Risk & Compliance

After Six Years, SEC Goes on Atkins Diet

Republican commissioner will not seek renomination after his second term expires this year.
Alan RappeportMay 5, 2008

Securities and Exchange Commissioner Paul Atkins, after nearly six years in office, said Monday that he will leave the agency this summer.

Atkins has worked for the SEC for a decade, serving in various positions under three different chairmen. First appointed as a commissioner in 2002, he is now in his second term, which expires this year. Among his accomplishments were successful support for revising the controversial Audit Standard 2, which created cumbersome internal control requirements for companies.

Christopher Cox, SEC chairman, noted Atkins’ devotion to “ensuring that the costs of regulation are kept in line with its benefits.” The outgoing commissioner advocated a more uniform enforcement program and more efficient inspections and examinations of companies by the SEC.

A former lawyer who practiced in New York and France, Atkins, a Republican, last year was under consideration to lead the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The SEC had no comment on his future plans except that he will stay on at the SEC until a replacement is named and takes his place.

“I started in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals and the enactment of Sarbanes-Oxley, which imposed a very demanding rulemaking timeline on the SEC,” Atkins said. “With the hard work of my colleagues on the Commission and the talented staff, we were able to address those problems.”

Atkins is widely known as a staunch libertarian who believes in clear rules and disclosure standards that avoid dictating business practices or impeding the market. Most recently he argued for new guidance on valuation of assets to help companies estimate values when there are no yardsticks to measure them against.

“We have to keep our ears open to the marketplace,” Atkins said last month. “If we need to formulate more guidance sooner than later, than we have to be ready to do that.”

The SEC has been operating for months with three Republican commissioners. The delays in nominating replacements have led some to complain that the agency has been hamstrung during a critical time. When operating with a full compliment, the SEC has five commissioners and not more than three from the president’s party.

Last month the White House nominated two Democrats to fill the empty SEC seats: Elisse Walter, a former SEC official and an executive vice president with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and Luis Aguilar, a partner at law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge and formerly an attorney at the SEC.