Two years ago, I thought that the strategy of outsourcing tax returns overseas had prompted some fairly spirited debates within the accounting profession and made slam dunk opinion pieces and commentary for Accounting Today.

Now I won’t rehash the pros and cons of offshoring, or foist upon you my opinion on the subject, but I can safely say that sending returns to India or similar countries generated about one-fifth as much reader buzz as this year’s political football -- Sarbanes-Oxley 404 reform.

Petitions to reform SOX 404 reform are hardly news.

Since the sweeping reform act was signed into passage nearly five years ago, its internal controls provisions have been greeted in some circles with a cacophony of derision and complaints from filers -- particularly those companies with small market caps -- about the unfair costs in proportion to those in the Fortune 500.

To be fair, the first several years of complying with 404 certainly entailed their share of speed bumps and cost overruns. But as with doing anything for the first time, the process becomes incrementally easier each time it’s performed.

For example, in Year Three of SOX 404 compliance, costs have seen double-digit drops, according to a recent survey from Financial Executives International.

In the study, which compiled 200 responses from filers the average cost of 404 compliance over 2006 was $2.9 million, down 23 percent from the prior year and, overall, about one-third of the cost of year one of compliance.

Some 172 of those responses came from “accelerated filers,” those companies with market caps above $75 million.

FEI’s figures also showed a reduction in both internal and external costs of compliance -- as internal staff hours decreased by about 10 percent.

Not surprisingly, FEI attributed those costs to “increased efficiencies” in 404 compliance -- a euphemism for saying that it becomes easier each time around.

That’s not to say 404 costs haven’t been eased by other factors not incidentally, the availability of more sophisticated software programs that were not even on the radar when the bill was first passed into law.

The results of the FEI study will probably do little to influence those who’ve long maintained that their 404 costs are too high.

Inarguably there’s more work to be done. But conversely, few would argue how far it has come already.

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