SEC Calls in Inspector General to Probe Webster Selection Process

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, deeply split over the choice of former FBI chief William Webster as chairman of a U.S. accounting oversight board, on Thursday said it called in its inspector general to examine the selection process.

The New York Times reported Thursday that SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt learned shortly before Webster was selected for the job that he had headed the audit committee of a company that was facing fraud accusations.

A commission spokesman said Pitt "has asked the inspector general to review the (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) selection process."

A bitterly divided SEC on Friday voted to name five members of the board, with Webster as chairman. Webster edged out pension fund chief John Biggs in a 3-2 party-line vote.

The two Democratic members of the five-member SEC have complained that Pitt mishandled the selection process for the members of the new board, which Congress this summer ordered set up after a wave of corporate and accounting scandals.

The Times reported that Webster, when he was still being reviewed as a possible chairman, told Pitt he had headed the auditing panel of a U.S. Technologies Inc., a small, publicly traded company facing fraud accusations and investor lawsuits. The Times said Pitt did not tell the other four commissioners of this conversation before they voted.

Henry Hu, a corporate and securities law professor at the University of Texas, said, "This does shake one's confidence in Judge Webster ... as well as in the judgment, I'm afraid, of SEC Chairman Pitt."

The Times reported that White House officials also told the paper they were not informed about the details of Webster's involvement with U.S. Technologies Inc. , a Washington-based company involved in several businesses.

Webster had headed the three-person auditing committee of the company, which is facing suits by investors who say they were defrauded of millions of dollars, the paper said.

Webster resigned from U.S. Technologies as a director on July 19, according to an SEC filing.