By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Global financial auditing and consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is exploring the sale of its government consulting practice, which could fetch about $500 million (£373.2 million), four people familiar with the matter said this week.
The sale would give PWC a freer hand to pursue the growing business of auditing government agencies. Professional standards restrict the kind of consulting services audit companies can offer to government customers, which are deterred by even the appearance of conflicts.
Wall Street investment bank Morgan Stanley <MS.N> is running the sale process, said the sources, who requested anonymity because details of the talks were not public.
Bidders have received financial information about the consulting practice, which offers business process improvement and operations streamlining services for a variety of government entities, including U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense.
The unit's pre-tax earnings are expected to rise to more than $60 million next year from about $50 million this year, the sources said.
Private equity firms including New York-based Veritas and Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners are potential bidders for the unit, the people said.
Representatives of PWC, Morgan Stanley, Veritas and Madison Dearborn declined to comment.
One of biggest audits in history, the audit of the U.S. Department of Defense, kicked off this month and is due at the end of the government's 2018 fiscal year.
According to Pentagon records, PWC, one of world's largest auditing companies, has been contracted to provide "audit-readiness" services to the department.
"The Department is engaging auditors to perform over 24 individual financial statement audits of its largest components, as well as a Department-wide consolidated audit to summarize all results and conclusions on a DoD-wide basis," a Pentagon spokesman said.
Other companies in the government services sector have struck deals this year, including DXC Technology Co <DXC.N>, which combined its U.S. public-sector business with Vencore Holding Corp and KeyPoint Government Solutions to create an independent, publicly traded company serving U.S. government clients.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)