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On the Shoulders of Giants

Joanne S. Barry, CAE

This issue celebrates 85 years of publication for The CPA Journal. Since that time, the United States has had 14 sitting presidents, sent its citizens to war five times, and added two additional states to the Union. These histories that have shaped our nation may not evoke the CPA profession for most people, but I guarantee that a CPA played a role in each of them—and you will see how in the pages of this issue.

Consider the passage of the Securities Act of 1933: In the bill's initial draft, third-party public company auditors were to be federal workers—it would be the government doing the auditing of a public company's financial statements. But the bill was revised, according to a 1978 research study by NYU Professor Jeremy Wiesen, after a CPA named Colonel Arthur Carter almost singlehandedly convinced the senators in a Banking and Currency Committee hearing to abandon the idea of government auditors in favor of private sector ones.

Wiesen's study also provides an interesting snippet of testimony where Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky asks Carter about the difference between a third-party auditor and a company controller; it is a telling reminder of the unchecked power that Congress was about to invest in the CPA profession. Carter was explaining to the Senate committee that it is the public auditors who audit a company controller's account and that there were already about 15,000 of them licensed to do so across the country. “Who audits you?” Senator Barkley asks during the exchange. Carter responds: “Our conscience.” Carter was NYSSCPA president at the time.

One of the most honorable traits of the profession is that while CPAs are leaders who have changed the course of American history, accountancy is also a profession of service, as you will read about in “The New York State Society of CPAs during WWII: Leadership through Word, Deed and Bond,” on page 34. CPAs have not only served the nation in their role as accountants—occupying key posts in the War Production Board and Office of Price Administration in WWII, for example—but also as soldiers on the front lines.

Planning for the Future by Looking Back

Anniversaries often prompt reflection, giving us, with each passing milestone, the opportunity to reframe our perspective and to see certain trajectories more clearly. The prescient among us use the past as a road map to a potential future—to maintain a course or to change it, depending on our desired outcome. Sound familiar? Analyzing the past to set a plan for the future is one of a CPA's core competencies.

What I see looking back is a profession of leaders, men (and, finally, some women) who have shaped America's history—not by sitting on the sidelines, but leading the charge. So as we celebrate the 85th anniversary of The CPA Journal, I am pleased to see members of this profession once again taking the initiative and honoring the NYSSCPA's tradition of leadership. Last fall, our Exempt Organizations Committee petitioned the IRS to provide automatic six-month extensions for filing the federal Form 990. On July 31, President Obama signed into law the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015, which included a provision to do just that. While we were likely not the only group to request the change, there is an obvious parallel between our proposal and the new law. The end result will have a positive impact on nonprofits across the country. Success generates momentum. The Exempt Organizations Committee followed up its Form 990 extension win with suggestions to the IRS on how to simplify Form 990-PF, the tax form private foundations must file—a form that hasn't been updated since the 1970s. We're waiting to hear back from the IRS on that one, but every success is a reminder that regulators see our members as thought leaders. We know that is also true of our prolific Financial Accounting Standards and SEC committees, and our New York, Multistate and Local Taxation Committee, as well as others; but I think that some of our members may forget the great opportunities they have to be leaders in the profession through this organization. I'm hopeful that this issue of The CPA Journal reminds them of that.

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

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