Bramwell’s Lunch Beat: Expired Tax Breaks May Soon Get New Life

Mobile devices add allure to March Madness at work
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament begins in earnest today, and although people have long been able to stream games live over the Internet, employers have always had the option to block content to keep productivity high. That's harder to do when workers are bringing their own devices and using their cellphone data plans to engage in March Madness, Ryan Nakashima of the Associated Press wrote yesterday.

Last year, streamed video viewing of the first two weeks of the tournament more than tripled from the previous year to 14 million hours. The number of viewers using the NCAA March Madness Live mobile app more than doubled to 3.4 million, the article stated.

Barrett Coleman, a 30-year-old accountant in Chicago, said the no-streaming policy of the Big Four firm where he used to work had a subtle effect on his behavior. The firm blocked Internet streams of the tournament to avoid congestion on its network, but it also set up TVs for game viewing in conference and break rooms.

“You don't really want to go to the break room and be standing there for a couple of hours,” said Coleman, who now works at a major consulting firm, according to the article. “I can see why watching the video might have sent the wrong message to the people below me.”

Tax break revival said to get US Senate committee vote
The Senate Finance Committee may vote during the week of March 31 to revive dozens of tax breaks that expired on December 31, 2013, said a Democratic aide to the panel, Richard Rubin of Bloomberg reported yesterday.

The tax break vote will be the first test for Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who became the Finance Committee's chairman last month, replacing Max Baucus.

According to Rubin, the committee hasn’t decided whether to extend the 55 tax breaks through the end of 2014 or 2015, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Wyden’s proposal probably will exclude or refine some of the tax extenders. The goal is to produce a bipartisan bill in the committee, the aide said, according to the article.

[Click here to read a Washington Post article on the possible tax break revival.]

Boards remain split on lease expense recognition
After two days of meetings, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) failed to reach a consensus for new lease accounting guidance, but vowed to continue working together in pursuit of consistency, Ken Tysiac, senior editor of the Journal of Accountancy, reported yesterday.

The boards are attempting to create a converged standard that would eliminate a hidden liability for lessees by bringing leases onto corporate balance sheets. But they have struggled to agree on how to do it.

The FASB and the IASB failed to reach common answers on key areas of lessee and lessor accounting, the article stated. In particular, the IASB favored a single approach for lessees for recognition of all leases, while the FASB voted for a dual-recognition approach for lessees, depending on the type of lease.

“While differences remain, most notably in their preferred approaches to expense recognition, the boards are committed to working together to minimize these differences and to creating greater transparency around lease transactions for the benefit of investors worldwide,” the boards said in a joint statement following Wednesday’s meeting, according to the article.

[Click here to read a CFO article on Wednesday’s FASB/IASB meeting.]

Bernie Madoff speaks: Politics, remorse and Wall Street
Politico last week interviewed Bernie Madoff at the medium-security prison in Butner, North Carolina, where he will spend the rest of his life. The man convicted of orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in US history weighed in with his latest views on everything from his favorite politicians to the ties between Washington and Wall Street to details about his life in prison and his severed relationships with family members.

Click here to read more.

Offshore taxes may slow audits for some US multinationals: IRS
Patrick Temple-West of Reuters reported on March 18 that, according to Michael Danilack, a deputy IRS commissioner, multinational businesses that often fight with the IRS over their worldwide taxes may be dropped from an agency program meant to smooth corporate audits.

Speaking at a conference on Tuesday, Danilack raised concerns about “transfer pricing” disagreements that complicate a voluntary audit program the tax agency operates with big US companies.

To help simplify and speed up corporate audits, the IRS in 2011 started a program, known as the “compliance assurance process” (CAP), where companies can resolve potential tax issues before they file their tax returns each year, Temple-West wrote.

“There is ... a question of whether or not a taxpayer who has a myriad transfer pricing issues should be in CAP at all,” Danilack said, according to the article.

He emphasized that “no one is on the verge of being thrown out of CAP.” But he added, “If we're not getting transfer pricing work done in the timeframe set for CAP then maybe there is a dialogue that needs to take place.”

Audit execs juggle competing demands, survey says
Tammy Whitehouse of Compliance Week reported earlier this week that chief audit executives are wrestling with the reality that the compliance burden is growing right alongside the growing demand for more strategic or operational audit coverage.

In a Grant Thornton survey of 400 chief audit executives in the United States, half at public companies, audit executives report they are feeling the pinch of increased compliance requirements, such as Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act, along with rules on anti-corruption, government contracts, and payment card security, among others. Nearly 70 percent of audit executives say they expect their costs to increase this year as a result of increased regulation, the article stated.

“And they're not thinking just of newer regulations, but renewed focus on older rules as well, such as Sarbanes-Oxley,” Whitehouse wrote. “The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has demanded more audit attention to internal control over financial reporting in recent years, leading 69 percent of chief audit executives to report in the survey they have changed their approach to SOX compliance as a result. In Grant Thornton's survey, 32 percent of chief audit executives said Sarbanes-Oxley is an extremely important or very important concern, and 69 percent said they have changed their approach to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance as a result of PCAOB scrutiny.”

Why M&A success is elusive for some companies
According to two recent surveys, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) remain a key strategy for company growth, but not all executives on the lookout for M&A opportunities think they’re successful in pulling off deals, Neil Amato, senior editor of CGMA Magazine, wrote yesterday.

“Growing complexity was one reason companies had mixed success in M&A, according to a PwC report,” Amato wrote. “Deals are less about absorption and more ‘transformational,’ which PwC defines as involving the acquisition of new markets, channels, products, or operations in a way that is transformative to the integrated organization.

“Forty-seven percent of respondents in a Crowe Horwath survey said their companies maintained clarity and focus throughout the deal process, and just 12 percent said they were very efficient at executing M&A deals,” the article continued. “Executives in the Crowe Horwath survey are hopeful about future mergers, but most said their companies’ previous deals did not achieve the intended financial goals and operational synergies.”

Justice Department rejects Ted Cruz’s IRS probe request
The US Department of Justice rejected Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) request for a special prosecutor to probe allegations that the IRS targeted conservative groups, according to a letter sent to Cruz and shared with Politico, Katie Glueck wrote yesterday.

Earlier this year, Cruz sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to “act to preserve the integrity of the Department of Justice and immediately appoint a special prosecutor, with meaningful independence,” to handle the IRS probe.

The Justice Department replied in a letter dated March 10 that “a Special Counsel may be appointed when an investigation or prosecution by the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest, or in other extraordinary circumstances, such that the public interest would be served by such an appointment,” the article stated.

The letter, which was signed by Peter J. Kadzik, principal deputy assistant attorney general, continued: “After consideration of your request, in light of the regulatory standard set forth above, we have concluded that such an appointment is not warranted.”

Coming after me, IRS? Check my Instagram
How one man is taking selfies to prove to the IRS that he actually splits time between his home in Philadelphia and an apartment he rents in New York City near the firm where he works. Click here for the article from HLN.

Quick Links

  • US alleges inside traders used spycraft, ate evidence (Wall Street Journal)
  • 10 questions CFOs should ask their controllers (Entrepreneur)
  • American Airlines moving 130 accounting jobs from Tulsa (KOKI-TV)
  • EU makes funding for accounting authorities contingent upon reforms (Compliance Week)
  • The rise and precipitous fall of serious bipartisan tax reform (The Atlantic)
  • Missing your 2010 tax refund? Claim deadline is 4-15-2014 (Don’t Mess With Taxes)
  • As American as Apple Inc. (TaxVox)
  • Report: California film tax credit a good investment (Los Angeles Times)
  • Here’s how to file Bitcoin income on your tax return (Slate)
  • Cigarette smuggling across the states (Tax Foundation)
  • Exclusive from Monadnock Research: Big Four fiscal 2013 advisory practice rankings and conflict risk metrics (re: The Auditors/Going Concern)
  • Tax time: Are you withholding enough? (Forbes)

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