The Value of Including Public Members on NYSSCPA Committees
Experiment of ‘Going Public’ Is a Success

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AUGUST 2007 - The NYSSCPA is home to more than 65 committees, most of which are composed entirely of CPAs. That is as it should be; the Society’s primary goals include protecting the interests of its CPA members and helping accounting professionals succeed.

But the Society also exists to protect the public interest, and doing so requires a willingness to seek out diverse perspectives. With these ideals in mind, in 2004 then–president John Kearney appointed two “public” non-CPA members to sit on the Society’s Quality Enhancement Policy Committee (QEPC). The Society’s Board of Directors created the QEPC in 2004 to oversee the Professional Ethics and Peer Review committees and to ensure that peer review, ethics, and accounting education are continuously meeting the needs of the accounting profession and the public that it serves. These public members—John Eickemeyer, a lawyer who represents CPAs, and H. Stephen Grace, the former chairman of Financial Executives International (FEI)—are still on the committee today, and have made tremendous contributions.

Including public members on the QEPC has proved to be a boon to the committee and the profession in many ways. First, the profession has gained an invaluable external perspective on peer review, ethics, and accounting education. Second, members of the public get to see—up close and personal—just how hard CPAs work to improve their profession. Through this interaction, public members (and, by extension, the public at large) gain a better understanding of the complex issues facing CPAs, and the depth of thought and knowledge that goes into decisions. Last, inviting public members to take part in the Society’s internal process demonstrates the profession’s commitment to openness and transparency, which significantly enhances its public image.

One Good Deed Deserves Another

After the NYSSCPA Board of Directors saw firsthand the benefits of including public members on a Society committee, it wasn’t long before they thought, “Why stop here?” And in 2006, the QEPC’s white paper on ethics, which the Board approved, recommended that, for the first time, a public, non-CPA member sit on the Society’s Professional Ethics Committee (PEC).

The PEC undertakes investigations of members accused of ethical violations and is exactly the kind of committee that can really benefit—in both perception and reality—from having a public member. In terms of perception, the PEC plays an important role in demonstrating to the state the profession’s capacity for self-regulation and discipline. The idea was that a public PEC member would enhance both the public perception of the quality of ethics investigations, and the transparency of the investigation process at the Society and in New York State. A public member might also improve the committee’s day-to-day decision-making.

The board recommended that the PEC’s public member have full participation and voting rights but not be permitted to conduct investigations. As envisioned by the board, the ideal public member would be a former or current consumer of CPA services as well as someone involved in a business activity that, by its nature, requires performance at a high level of ethical standards.

Former New York State Comptroller Ned Regan fit the board’s description perfectly. Ned currently serves as a trustee for the Financial Accounting Foundation; the Foundation oversees the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), is responsible for funding the activities of both FASB and the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), and selects members to serve on both FASB and GASB. He ended his tenure as president of Baruch College in 2004 but remains a forceful advocate for responsible corporate governance as a professor within the City University of New York (CUNY) system. He also writes and speaks extensively on the development of accounting standards, the financing of public infrastructure, and other corporate governance issues.

At the NYSSCPA’s Annual Dinner on May 17, then–QEPC chair and incoming NYSSCPA president David Lifson asked Ned if he would like to serve on the PEC. Ned agreed, and the PEC now has the first public member in its history. I have no doubt that, in Ned’s case, the “public member experiment” will prove to be as fruitful and rewarding as it has been for the QEPC, the Society, the profession, and the public.

Louis Grumet
Publisher, The CPA Journal
Executive Director, NYSSCPA





















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