Rededicating the Profession to the Public Trust

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Congratulations for publishing Arthur R. Wyatt’s insightful analysis of the history of the accountancy profession over the past 40 years and his expression of concern for the future (In Focus, “Accountants’ Responsibilities and Morality,” March 2004).

Wyatt is absolutely right in concluding “The survival of the accounting profession as an important facet of our society cannot rely on the effectiveness of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. The leaders of the profession … need to embrace policies that … once again meet the public’s expectations.”

During Congressional hearings in the mid-1980s, John Dingell, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reminded us that our economic system works on trust. Those who use financial information must trust that it is relevant and reliable: “If we absolve accountants from blame, perhaps we should absolve ourselves of the need for accountants and save ourselves a lot of money. If they are providing a useful service, it should be one on which the public can rely.” (Emphasis added.)

In response, self-regulatory programs were expanded in an effort to improve the quality of practice: peer review, CPE, and additional academic education all were required. Regrettably, in the ensuing 20 years there have been far too many instances in which the profession fell short and the public was not well served. Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the hope that federal regulation will accomplish what self-regulation could not. History, however, has a way of repeating itself. What action will Congress take in the future if there is yet another wave of failures?

In the early days of the SEC, Congress considered the question of whether to rely on the private sector or create a national corps of government auditors. Congress opted to rely on the profession and, for the present, continues to do so. But I fear patience is wearing thin.

We have been given a franchise to express opinions on the fairness of financial statements because of a concern about the potential for harm if the public acts on misleading information. If we fail to meet our responsibilities, the outcome could be disastrous.

All of us must rededicate ourselves to our obligation to serve the public interest, even at the sacrifice of personal gain. When we encounter conflicting pressures, we must fulfill our obligation to the public. When we serve the public interest, we best serve our clients and ultimately ourselves.

Philip B. Chenok
Professor of Accounting
Berkeley College

Editor’s note: Philip B. Chenok, CPA (Retired), was AICPA President and CEO from 1980 to 1995.

Student Perceptions

The article “The First Course: Students’ Perceptions of Intro-
ductory Accounting” (March 2004) was very thought provoking. We are always trying to improve our introductory accounting courses here, and this article gave me some ideas for addressing our own students. Thank you for a very timely and useful article.

Susan B. Anders, PhD, CPA
Associate Professor of Accounting, St. Bonaventure University, School of Business, St. Bonaventure, N.Y.

Editor’s note: Anders is a frequent CPA Journal contributor, including the monthly ”What to Bookmark.”

Up Front on Outsourcing

Steven Mintz’s “The Ethical Dilemmas of Outsourcing” (Perspectives, March 2004) was positioned just where it should have been: up front.
His succinct and to-the-point article said, “From an ethical perspective, a client must be informed that personal and tax information is being transmitted electronically overseas for processing.” After all the dithering for the last several years, a few more firm stances like this one and I will become convinced we are finally starting to reclaim our profession.

James McKeown, CPA
Cicero, N.Y.




















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