Pitt Support of TIAA-CREF's Biggs Reported Weakened

October 4, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman Harvey Pitt is backing away from his earlier support of a prominent pension executive to head the new federal accounting oversight board, The New York Times is reporting.

The Times reported that Pitt called John Biggs, chairman and chief executive officer of the TIAA-CREF teacher pension fund, to inform Biggs that he might not be able to support his candidacy.

The Times said Pitt had been under pressure from the accounting industry and a prominent Republican lawmaker to scrap the Biggs appointment because they complained Biggs was too tough on the industry in his calls for post-Enron reforms.

Pitt’s move to install Biggs as head of the new regulatory board came only three weeks ago, the Times said.

At a lunch at TIAA-CREF offices in New York on September 11, Pitt and Harvey Goldschmid, another commissioner, told Biggs that they would support him for the job if he wanted it, the Times said, quoting senior agency officials and Congressional aides briefed about the meeting.

Biggs has been a leading voice for more stringent oversight of the accounting profession.

Process Now in ‘Turmoil’

Now, SEC officials say, the selection process has been thrown into turmoil. The Times said the accounting profession, which lost the battle in Congress two months ago over how it should be regulated, has turned to Pitt, one of its former top lawyers before he joined the government, to try to win the war.

In response to an e-mail message outlining what aides and officials had said about the selection process, Pitt today issued a one-sentence statement through his spokeswoman, Christi Harlan.

“The version of events you have described is untrue,” his response said, according to the Times. Pitt declined a request to elaborate.

Biggs, who was described today by friends as still willing to serve, said through a spokesman that the commission had not offered him the job and declined to comment further to the Times.