UPDATE 1-U.S. SEC chief accountant to depart agency

Thu May 15, 2014 2:18pm EDT

(Adds more details from the official announcement, background on current accounting developments at the SEC)

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON May 15 (Reuters) - Paul Beswick, the chief accountant for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, plans to leave the agency and return to the private sector, the SEC announced Thursday.

The SEC said that Beswick, who has worked at the agency since 2007 in various roles and served as chief accountant since 2012, will stay to help with the transition.

The announcement did not disclose where he plans to go next.

Beswick's planned departure comes at a crucial time for the SEC, which under SEC chair Mary Jo White has renewed its focus on accounting policy and enforcement matters.

In addition to pursuing more companies for accounting fraud, White announced in a speech earlier this year that she hopes to make it a priority for the commission to review whether to converge U.S. and international accounting standards.

For years the SEC has grappled with whether to phase out U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, in favor of international financial reporting standards (IFRS).

Although most agree that the goal to achieve one uniform set of robust accounting standards is a good one, many disagree on how to get there.

Some critics, for instance, say a switch would be too costly for companies. Others also question whether a move to IFRS would be better for investors, since IFRS is based on broad principles and lacks detailed rules.

IFRS is set by the London-based International Accounting Standards Board, while U.S. GAAP is set by the Connecticut-based Financial Accounting Standards Board.

Both boards, however, have very different funding and governance structures.

Those differences have also raised concerns from critics about whether a move to IFRS is the right decision, and whether it would dilute the SEC's oversight of its own accounting standards.

Last month, an international body that oversees standard-setting released a report detailing recent discussions with White on the topic of converging standards.

Mary Jo White had said she hoped to be able to come back to the trustees "with some proposals in the next months," said the April report by the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation.

An SEC spokeswoman declined to comment on the contents of that report after its release.

In his work at the SEC, Beswick has been deeply involved in reviewing the pros and cons of a move to international standards, among other things.

His office also is in charge of overseeing the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the regulatory body that polices auditors.

In addition, Beswick has been involved in providing accounting advice in numerous SEC rulemakings, such as measures required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act.

Prior to working at the SEC, Beswick was a partner with Ernst & Young. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bill Trott, Bernard Orr)