by Tracey Miller-Segarra

The American Institute of CPAs, in an apparent effort to jumpstart the restoration of the profession from within its own ranks, has set up a task force to gauge the effectiveness of its Council.

The Task Force on the Role and Responsibilities of AICPA Council will probe a number of issues, including how Council members get a seat on the Council, whether they should speak for themselves or their states, how well they’re kept informed of profession developments, and ways to improve communication among all CPAs.

"The task force should recommend any and all changes that [it] believes would better enhance the Council process," the institute wrote. The creation of the task force was announced on Jan. 29 by AICPA chairman Bill Ezzell via a conference call with Council members around the country.

Ezzell has chosen restoration of the profession as the theme of his chairmanship, and the task force is one of the first tangible initiatives designed to shine light on the AICPA’s inner workings and regain credibility within the profession’s own ranks.

At the institute’s Fall Council meeting in Hawaii late last year, the New York State Society of CPAs proposed a resolution to create a similar task force, but the motion was tabled. That resolution sought to have the boards of each state society choose task force members, and would have forbidden Council members to serve. It was not immediately clear how the AICPA’s task force members would be chosen.

"I think any study of the way in which the AICPA does business is a step in the right direction," said NYSSCPA executive director Lou Grumet. "Hopefully it won’t be too little, too late.’

Grumet added, however, that the task force’s mandate falls far short of the New York resolution, which sought to examine the entire dynamic of how the AICPA is governed.

"We wanted to look at the operations of the board, of the Council and of the leadership and the interaction amongst those three. We think there are some problems there that need to be fixed," Grumet said.

At least one council member from each state is elected by institute members in that state, and all 85 directly elected Council members are mandated to be divided "equitably" among the states, according to the number of AICPA members in each state, according to the AICPA by-laws. Council members serve a three-year term.

In addition, seven institute members, without regard to the states in which they live, are elected each year as members-at-large of the Council.

Over the past couple of years, a vocal minority of CPAs have questioned the Council selection process, often criticizing the group as serving as a rubber stamp for the organization’s agenda. Criticism reached a fever pitch after the global credential initiative failed, and it was learned that AICPA president Barry Melancon stood to earn a fortune from the group’s for-profit Web portal, CPA2Biz. Melancon has since donated his stock to charity.

"I think we’re just getting more lip service," said Andy Blackman, an executive committee member of CPAs Reforming Our Profession (online at www.cpas4reform.com), a grassroots group formed over the summer by CPAs who are seeking to democratize the entire AICPA Council process. "I think it’s a political manipulation to appear to be a voice for change. I’m only going to be convinced when I see results."

Ezzell planned to flesh out details of the task force and its composition earlier this month.

Separately, the institute announced that it had recently trimmed its staff by 3.5 percent, or a loss of some 22 positions due to economic pressures and anticipation of a different landscape due to the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting reform law. Sources said at least three of those positions came from the institute’s troubled Web portal, CPA2Biz.

The AICPA also announced that, starting on April 5, 2004, the Uniform CPA Exam will be delivered in a computer-based format. The final paper exam will be given on Nov. 5 and 6, 2003. The new exam will be offered up to six days a week, during two out of every three months throughout the year. Currently, candidates only have two chances a year to take the test, in May and November.

 

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