This is an open letter that is being e-mailed to each of the newly appointed members of The Task Force on Role and Responsibilities of AICPA Council.

To Task Force members:

Timothy O'Brien, American Humane Society

Theodore Flynn, Massachusetts Society of CPAs

Lisa Germano, Actuarial Benefits & Design Co. Inc.,

Donald Gursey, Gursey, Schneider & Co., LLP

Jeffrey Hoops, Ernst & Young, LLP

Mary Kline-Cueter, G & C Associates, Inc.

Scott Nelson

AICPA Staff Liaison

Jay Rothberg, AICPA Vice President

First of all, let me sincerely thank you for agreeing to serve on the Task Force. You have a remarkable challenge ahead as you are charged with evaluating "the manner in which Council representation is determined and the manner in which the Council conducts its activities." The matters that you are asked to address include the election and appointment of Council members, how such members are kept informed, the role Council should perform, the issue of who Council members represent, and how to improve communications.

You are also specifically directed to address the broader issue of governance and structure of the entire profession in an addendum to your report and then only in terms of identifying what needs further consideration.

I respectfully suggest two things that you look at as you embark on your efforts One, that you immediately establish your independence and communicate with the AICPA membership about who you are, what you are trying to accomplish, and encourage individual feedback from those members. It has been my experience that there has not been enough real grassroots membership participation early in the AICPA decision making process.

Two, please address in some detail, the recent successes and failures of the AICPA. Specifically you should consider the selection of initiatives and the Institute's ability or inability in executing those initiatives. Some of the obvious ones are Web Trust and the other assurance services, the Shared Services initiative, XYZ/Cognitor, and CPA2BIZ.

I think it is important that your focus be broader than just the Council. Some AICPA members might argue it is virtually impossible for the Council to be effective because of the way the Institute operates. Basically, it seems that broad-based conclusions for AICPA actions and resources are drawn from focus groups and surveys with conveniently pre-selected questions and a limited number of hand-picked participants. The unveiling of an initiative usually follows and is announced with a sort of pie-eyed optimism. Then you have the public relations campaign which always includes the AICPA pre-packaged spin in response to any constructive criticism that is offered.

CPAs in public practice need help in running their firm, both in terms of identifying business opportunities and in marketing themselves. The Council and the Institute have simply dropped the ball. I believe it is in part because the AICPA is looking for revenue from business relationships it develops for its members with third parties.

Now, let's talk about that washcloth. My father had a retail store, which he owned and operated with three siblings. Four families were supported by it for decades. One of his keys to success was the eight-cent washcloth. Each one cost him seven and three-quarters cent. He prominently displayed this loss leader in a window to draw in a large number of customers who were used to paying much more for washcloths.

Task Force members, as you conduct your study, think about what most accounting firms would want to be the primary focus of the AICPA and Council. My bet it is on finding the accounting firms' equivalents to those eight-cent washcloths. Maybe doing that is the best way of improving the effectiveness of both the AICPA and its Council.

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