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Our Member-Oriented Position Process

Joanne S. Barry

Every one of our 28,000 members possesses a set of values and opinions; sometimes they are unique to the individual, and other times they fall in line with other CPAs' opinions on a certain issue. A crucial part of the NYSSCPA's mission is to protect the interests of its members and the general public. To ensure the Society's official positions best serve that mission, the NYSSCPA has a longstanding series of processes in place to guarantee that every position taken by the NYSSCPA has been deliberated by all segments of the membership. They have a voice in the process through participating as committee members, serving in leadership roles, or simply sharing their concerns through phone calls and letters.

The Comment Letter Process

The comment letter process positions the Society as a prominent and respected leader on accounting, tax, and financial issues. But most important of all, it also promotes the professional interests of our members in conjunction with the interests of the profession and the public. In our most recent fiscal year, we issued 41 comment letters to a wide range of groups that included FASB, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), the IRS, the AICPA, and the New York State Board for Public Accountancy.

The NYSSCPA has codified a system that provides a consistent and equitable means of developing official Society positions through comment letters developed by task forces and statewide technical committees. When a committee decides that it wants to respond to an exposure draft or comment on an issue, the committee chair generally works with the committee's assigned oversight committee. If deemed necessary, other committees may give their insights. At this point, the president, vice president in charge of comment letters, and executive director become involved as well, and if the issue affects basic Society policy, it becomes the province of the board or executive committee. The relevant committee, or a subcommittee thereof, then works on the drafting of a comment letter for the president's approval.

How does this work in practice? It's easy to look at the record, because all of our comment letters are posted at www.nysscpa.org/page/society-comment-letters. For example, read our December 2011 comment letter in response to a PCAOB concept release on auditor independence and audit firm rotation. The NYSSCPA strongly opposed the idea of audit firm rotation because that's the consensus we received from our members. Even before it reached the board of directors, a broad scope of membership input was consulted in writing that letter—the Accounting and Auditing Oversight Committee, the Auditing Standards Committee, and the SEC Practice Committee—some 80 members representing different practices and companies. This level of input ensured that the opinions represented the will of the membership.

Committees respond to legislation, exposure drafts, and other proposals, whether they come from Albany, Norwalk, or Washington. If a proposal affects CPAs, we're prepared to take a stand. The NYSSCPA has some 50 technical committees that address everything from the taxation of individuals to the entertainment industry. And each one of these committees is composed of members like you who are working in their particular niches each day and who have a sense of what the profession requires.

The importance of these committees in drafting Society comment letters and positions is why we so strongly encourage members to volunteer for committees—participation is an essential way of getting your voice heard. Participating on a committee allows members to shape Society policy—not inadvertently, but directly.

The Role of the Legislative Task Force

Legislative and policy changes from Albany are special, of course. Although many accounting and financial groups take stands on national issues, for state initiatives our members look only to the NYSSCPA to represent them. The Society's Legislative Task Force is charged with reviewing and evaluating existing laws, rules, and regulations for appropriateness in the practice of public accounting; suggesting amendments and changes; and recommending positions the Society should take.

The task force's mandate goes beyond the drafting of comment letters. Indeed, its action plan specifically calls for members who are able and willing to contact and meet with legislators and regulators to make a case for the Society's position on matters affecting the profession.

Recently, Legislative Task Force Chair Kevin McCoy met with Commissioner Thomas Mattox and members of the state's Department of Taxation and Finance after it issued a report that recommended how the state should implement its tax preparer registration program. The program's scope, including appropriate educational qualifications and continuing education requirements for tax preparers, was up for review. We wanted to make sure that channels of communication between the NYSSCPA and the state tax department remain open and clear, and this meeting was one of the ways the task force fulfills its mission.

Action from the NYSSCPA President and Board

We're also able to respond quickly when necessary. About once a year, the president sends a personal letter that does not go through standard channels and is issued just over the president's name, without an associated committee. This occurs when there's an urgent legislative issue or when the Society is supporting another organization with similar views, for example. Even these letters go through a review process.

For example, on November 15, 2011, NYSSCPA President Richard E. Piluso wrote a letter to Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in support of the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2011. If passed, this law would make cross-border taxation for employees who work in multiple states a far less complicated situation. Even these abbreviated comments are specifically made with our members' needs in mind. As Piluso wrote: “Many CPA firms in our state have employees who periodically work in states other than New York.” He went on to note that these firms also have clients in the same boat. He also noted that CPAs employed by companies with multistate locations would be affected.

In short, the comment letter was driven by the specific needs of a wide range of members.

Another example shows how the NYSSCPA board of directors may also develop policy. In January 2010, the board unanimously adopted a resolution in support of section 23 of the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA), which allows for cross-border practice mobility in New York. “This legislation will ensure that NY CPAs have the same access to cross-border practice that non-New York CPAs have,” the board resolution states. At the time, New York CPAs faced retaliation from states that had enacted mobility legislation, threatening the well-being of New York practices. Although the board's resolution did not name the bills the legislature introduced—because a bill that is introduced can often be different from the one that becomes law—the board thought that it was important to support the concept of mobility. By doing so, it established an official position of the NYSSCPA. And thanks, in part, to our advocacy efforts, the mobility bill became law and the legislation went into effect in November 2011.

I'm proud of the way our organization determines policy through a fair and equitable process. But all of the rules and manuals mean nothing without the dedication of the members who take time out of their busy jobs to attend committee meetings, research issues, contact legislators, and draft and revise comment letters. These are fellow CPAs with practices and jobs just like yours who understand what you want. If there is an issue that you believe the Society should respond to, please contact us. Committee membership guarantees you a role in comment letter development, but you don't need to attend meetings to make your Society aware of an issue. The development of an official Society position often begins with a phone call or e-mail from a member like you.

Joanne S. Barry. Publisher. The CPA Journal, Executive Director, NYSSCPA, jbarry@nysscpa.org.

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