The run-up to the end of 2013 saw the usually flurry of accounting mergers, including one particularly large combination: The merger of Pittsburgh-based Alpern Rosenthal into BDO USA. That makes seven transactions in a little over a year for BDO.

John Koskinen, a 74-year-old multimillionaire and apparent masochist was approved for the post of Internal Revenue Service commissioner by the Senate Finance Committee in mid-December. During his confirmation hearing, Koskinen said that he would aim to rehabilitate the agency following recent scandals, and that working toward having the IRS pre-fill taxpayers' tax returns would not be a priority.

Speaking of taxes, a survey by the National Society of Accountants found that practitioners will be charging more for tax return preparation -- for instance, an average of $261 for an itemized 1040 and state tax return, up $15 from last year.

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board proposed for a second time the idea of requiring auditor reports to disclose the names of the lead partner on an engagement, as well as some of the other individuals and firms who participated in audits of public companies, brokers and dealers. The PCAOB is asking for public comment on the "reproposal," which represents a second try at a proposal first issued in 2011 after a July 2009 concept release suggested requiring the engagement partner to sign his or her own name on the audit report.

Separately, the board endorsed two accounting standards proposed by the Private Company Council pertaining to accounting for goodwill subsequent to a business combination and for certain types of interest rate swaps in an effort to modify the existing accounting standards for private companies. The final standards were expected to be issued by the end of 2013.

The International Accounting Standards Board introduced a new hedge accounting model as a major step forward in the financial instruments project on which it has been collaborating with the Financial Accounting Standards Board. The amendments to IFRS entail a substantial overhaul of hedge accounting to enable entities to better reflect their risk management activities in the financial statements.

GETTING READY

In advance of the upcoming tax season, the IRS started its Earned Income Tax Credit due diligence compliance audits of return preparers, with notices and visits going to preparers with high rates of errors.

The Treasury and the IRS issued initial guidance regarding qualification requirements for tax exemption as a social welfare organization under Section 501(c)(4) of the Tax Code after a scandal erupted last year over claims that the IRS was targeting Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a number of reports. Among them was one that said that deployment of a major new database, the Customer Account Data Engine 2, has been delayed and will cost $83 million, or 74 percent more than estimated. On the other hand, another report said that the IRS is making steady progress toward complying with an initiative from the federal government to improve the security of external computer network connections. A third report, however, said that even though the IRS has made improvements in information security, there are still weak spots in its system access controls, audit trails, and remediation of security flaws. And a fourth found that the service is losing billions of dollars to fraudsters every year from stolen Employer Identification Numbers, even though it has some processes in place to authenticate individuals who apply for an EIN.

Accounting educator, author and commentator Abraham J. Briloff died in mid-December. The long-time Baruch College professor was the author of four influential books and a long-running column in Barron's that frequently skewered irregular accounting practices at public companies. He was 96. 

Leslie Seidman, former chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, has taken on a new role as the executive director of the new Center for Excellence in Financial Reporting at Pace University's Lubin School of Business.

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