One of the most painstaking tasks a reporter faces each day is reading between the lines of official documents, memos or legal papers to get at the heart of the issue - the lead is almost always buried somewhere in a footnote or at the bottom of page 369.

In the case of the possible fate awaiting specialty credentials overseen by the American Institute of CPAs, the real meat of the story doesn’t show up until near the end.

National Accreditation Commission chair Bruce Harper spends the first two-thirds of a memo to credential holders going on about how every program is routinely reviewed, yada, yada, yada. His first veiled attempt to get at the real issue arrives when he notes that the AICPA Board of Directors has asked him to conduct a review of the credential programs "to determine how best to allocate resources."

Well, given that the Institute has fired a chunk of its staff over the past few weeks (including one person who helped oversee the specialties), and admits that it’s looking to tighten its belt elsewhere, it’s easy to infer that one way to conserve precious resources is to give these credential specialties no resources at all.

And you don’t usually start talking about how best to allocate resources unless you’re thinking of redirecting some.

Harper goes on to say that the analyses of the credential programs will be done with the understanding that the programs will either be strengthened, untouched, redesigned, or axed. Near the end of the memo, he adds that all strategies are being investigated, "including potential exit scenarios."

Bam - there’s the lead. The AICPA has decided that the specialty credential programs aren’t worth the dough being spent to support them, and they’re giving them the heave-ho. They can say all they want about strengthening or leaving them alone, the message in the memo is clear - the credentials (at least one, if not all) will soon be history.

Since the story first ran in Electronic Accountant, I’ve received a number of e-mails from PFS and CITP credential holders who wonder how much the AICPA will really save, since, they argue, the Institute never really supported these programs at all.

Harley Rubottom, who claims he earned the first specialty designation offered by the Institute in financial planning, said the reason that specialization is currently being reviewed with an eye toward elimination "is precisely because the AICPA never wanted it in the first place."

He says there are so few specialists that the public doesn’t even know they exist. "Had the AICPA actively pursued proliferation of specialties, the aborted effort to establish a meaningless universal credential like Cognitor would never have happened," he wrote. "Instead of wasting time and money to justify terminating the Specialty Programs, the AICPA should be ramping up to have as many meaningful specialties as are necessary to reflect what we do," he added.

He’s got a point.

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