In a unanimous voice vote, the governing Council of the American Institute of CPAs agreed to refocus the mission of its Center for Public Company Audit Firms.

The voluntary membership center has been renamed the Public Company Auditors' Forum and will concentrate on influencing public policy as an independent operation from the AICPA. Following the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the group was last reorganized in January 2004 with the goal of speaking for the profession on public company audit quality, educating its members, and holding an influence with regulators in the new regulatory environment created under the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

Scott Voynich, immediate past chairman of the AICPA board, presented the case for the forum's reorganization, saying its mission needed to move away from a focus on technical issues. In response to Council members' questions about the need for the separate entity, Voynich said while the AICPA often touts its advocacy efforts for small and midsized firms, the forum was offering the same opportunity for the major public firms. Today, the top six firms audit 70 percent of all registrants with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which collectively account for 99 percent of market value.

"These last two years have been a transition time," Voynich said. "The name change is meant to signal that this is something new, something that is going to respond to the issues and needs of members working in this arena." He said the direct involvement of the member firms working in the area would also be a return to the center's roots in the 1980s.

The forum will remain affiliated with the institute and comply with its protocols, but will hire an executive director and create a new 12-member governing board. The chief executives from each of the Big Four firms, as well as those from Grant Thornton LLP and BDO Seidman LLP, all who audit more than 300 issuers, will each have a seat on the board. The remaining six seats will be filled by the AICPA chief executive, two chief executives from firms who audit less than 300 issuers, and three at-large public members.

Membership in the forum will be open to any CPA firm registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board; associate membership is available to firms not registered with the PCAOB. The firm will be self-supporting, funded mostly by dues established by its governing board and paid by the six major audit firms. Separate dues will be accessed for other member and associate member firms.

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