Imagine if you would, a newspaper or magazine putting together a story on tort reform and the American Bar Association declines to comment. Or in a similar scenario, the American Medical Association refuses to speak about a proposed Patient's Bill of Rights. Sounds a bit unbelievable, doesn't it?

Most of us who know lawyers realize this is a species that speaks at the sight of half a grapefruit. And doctors? Just ask them and they'll let you know their opinions are the only ones that matter whether it be directly to a patient or into a reporter's tape recorder.

But imagine my surprise when I opened the Jan. 28 issue of a major consumer business publication, which showcased a cover story titled "Accounting in Crisis."

OK, with the Enron scandal widening and its auditor Andersen under fire, the topic is not unexpected and certainly not exclusive. In fact, rarely a day goes by when newspaper or TV headlines don't contain at least two Enron or Enron-related stories.

But what transformed me into a deer staring at oncoming headlights was the fact that in a sub-section on accounting reform and its possible solutions, the American Institute of CPAs declined to comment. Now step back and think about that for a moment.

The professional organization charged with promoting and representing the certified public accountant, declined to speak about the biggest crisis to impact the profession in recent memory.

With lawmakers screaming about the need for new accounting regulations and the specter of federal intervention drawing closer by the day, the AICPA did its best imitation of Marcel Marceau.

To be fair, the institute didn't emerge as a shining star in a recent expose in The Washington Post on the state of auditing, and has been heavily criticized by members for its chummy relationships with the Big Five at the expense of small practitioners. So if you liberally stretch the limits of understanding, you could see where they would implement somewhat of a bunker mentality.

But when your constituency begins taking on water, that seems to be getting deeper by the day, you'd better be around with a bilge pump in hand. That's actually part of the reason members pay dues.

By contrast, it was hard to keep the institute quiet when the global credential and CPA2Biz were its poster children or in its opposition to auditor independence rules. But when the heavy lifting came, they claimed back trouble. Suddenly, there's no there, there.

The shame is that even a nebulous and generic quote would have done the trick. How about, "We're waiting for all the facts to come in and we certainly want to work together to strengthen our great profession."

But now it's academic. In fact, the situation is an epidemic. And the AICPA missed one hell of an opportunity to administer a vaccine.

-Bill Carlino

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