One of my favorite reads of all time is Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” which, from its unique opening phrase of “Howard Roark laughed” to its ending paragraph, runs a voluminous 752 pages.
Along the same lengthy lines, it was brought to the attention of a House subcommittee last week that the current standard of accounting for derivative instruments and hedging from the Financial Accounting Standards Board is nearly 800 pages.
I mention this only because Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., wants FASB to, well, streamline its standard-setting process, a quasi “Cliff Notes” version if you will.
FASB came under Stearns’ microscope as the House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee zeroed in on the accounting maelstrom at the government-sponsored Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., better known as Freddie Mac.
In fact, since the investigation, Freddie Mac chief executive Leland Brendsel, chief operating officer David Glenn and former chief financial officer Vaughn Clarke have resigned. A pretty accurate barometer that something is seriously amiss.
Cliff the Congressman — as opposed to “FASB’s Cliff” — has charged that FASB’s overly complex rule produces -- and I quote -- “different results from company to company, undermining an investors ability to make informed decisions based on comparisons of those companies’ financial statements.”
Stearns vowed to reintroduce legislation similar to the bill he proposed last year to streamline the FASB’s standard-setting process. In no uncertain terms he indicated that House lawmakers were quickly losing patience with the glacial pace of FASB, noting that it took the board roughly 20 years to formulate revenue recognition standards.
New FASB member Leslie Seidman, a recognized authority on financial instruments, testified that the board has made some “monumental steps” over the past 18 months to improve its standard-setting process.
Even though I’ve been covering this profession for a scant three years, I’m fairly certain that should FASB reformat the derivatives standard, it won’t quite be brief enough for Stearns and his committee.
And in truth, although no one would argue that the standard could probably have been shorter, size in this case was probably secondary.
A recent report commissioned by Freddie Mac to investigate the accounting debacle stated that senior management “encouraged” the use of complex transactions to achieve steady earnings growth, and its corporate accountants lacked the requisite skill and judgment to ensure that the hedging and derivative entries complied with GAAP.
So you have the lethal combination of overly aggressive senior management and inexperienced auditors attempting to navigate an overly complex subject.
When the Freddie Mac debacle is finally in the books (pun intended) perhaps Stearns and FASB can meet somewhere in the middle — oh, say about the length of an Elmore Leonard novel.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access