A Weight on our Shoulders

A great weight on our shoulders

As a Texas CPA, I have to earn six hours of ethics education to maintain my license.  My ethics instructor, David Holt, said during class that CPAs are the only profession that can save this country.  Our ultimate responsibility is to the public while other professions view their ultimate customer their client – a.k.a. the one who pays them.  We are Certified PUBLIC Accountants, after all.
 
My initial reaction to David’s statement was, “If we are the saviors of this country, we are all in for a world of hurt.”  If auditors, who are CPAs , are holding the United States on our shoulders – forget it!   We are as good as dead.
 
As a self-employed person, I have significant selfish and mercenary tendencies.  These tendencies are some of my best business survival skills.  But I am afraid we are facing a crisis in this country that can only be helped by considering how our choices affect the community as a whole instead of just our own family and business. 
 
Why do I have such a dim view of the profession?
Well, I know myself!  And I have worked with CPAs in all but a few states.  I teach government auditing standards, the AICPA SASs, audit skills, etc. for continuing education credits.   And I have come to know, through various comments and worried looks, that CPAs in public practice are primarily worried about getting sued.  And if you are constantly worried about being sued, you won’t call a spade a spade;  you won’t do what is right but instead do whatever it takes to cover yourself. 
 
Here is the evidence that I have that CPAs are intensely worried about being sued:
·         The Statements on Auditing Standards, promulgated by the AICPA, are written in some archaic legalize that doubles back and repeats itself in nuanced, confusing ways that can only be written under the influence of a lawyer
·         A representative of the GAO, who works with the AICPA on a regular basis, jokingly complained at a national conference that she can’t meet with the AICPA without three of their lawyers present
·         A CPA firm in Louisiana refused to follow the guidelines in the Yellow Book regarding developing the elements of a finding for clarity and completeness in their reports because they were counseled by a lawyer to be as vague as possible in audit reports
·         PPC – a company that provides canned audit programs and checklists – is doing great business as CPAs refuse to think for themselves and lean on PPC to make sure they don’t get written up in a peer review
·         Every time I teach the Risk Assessment Standards – every time – someone pipes up and says “But if we have to use our judgment on an audit – we might get sued.”
Most CPAs in my Yellow Book class look a little pale when I quote them the following phrases from the Yellow Book:
GAGAS 1.01 Auditing is essential to government accountability to the public.
GAGAS 2.07 A distinguishing mark of an auditor is acceptance of responsibility to serve the public interest.
 
As if our title Certified PUBLIC Accountant wasn’t enough, the GAO is reminding us of our ultimate responsibility as auditors is NOT to the person who is paying our invoice, but to the public! 
 
Money?  Did you mention money?
 
And on top of worries about getting sued, auditors are also worried about making money.  And if you worry about making money, you aren’t going to be motivated to say what is so - to say what needs to be fixed - because you will anger the client.  They might fire you and find another auditor who is either clueless or passive and unmotivated to stir things up. 
 
Wow, these two forces – worries about getting sued and worries about getting fired – make auditors a pretty weak lot.  And we are supposed to save this country?
 
Has anyone asked you where you were?
 
As I write, the details of the $50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme perpetrated by a Wall Street hedge fund manager are coming to light.  Come to find out, that the SEC visited this guy twice and deemed his operation clean!  What?
 
And what about Enron and WorldCom and the Department of Defense?  The Department of Defense has NEVER been able to create an auditable financial statement. 
 
What about all those banks with those weak loans or the mortgage companies that were processing them?
 
When I tell feisty folks what I do for a living, they ask me “Where were you?  Why didn’t you guys catch this stuff?”  If they really want to know the answer, we talk about how auditing works and I end up uncovering our dark audit secret – that audits have a very limited usefulness.  I really don’t like saying that, at all.  But you know it, and I know it. 
 
Am I bugging ya’?  Didn’t mean to bug ‘ya.
 
Bono croons “Am I bugging ‘ya?  Didn’t mean to bug ‘ya?” at his concerts as he sings about serious world injustices.  What a pretentious jerk, eh?  Well, this little email is a plea to you – as Bono made to his listeners – to do something to stop the madness.  I know I am insulting some of you who do your best to fight the good fight.  But for the rest of us, please consider:
 
·         Putting aside your worries about getting sued or getting fired and say what needs to be said
·         Think of the big picture when working on your audits.  Skip the minutia and think of what your client is involved in that is risky to the public and say something about it!
·         Try to implement the intent of the auditing standards, the spirit, rather than just doing the minimum it takes to make a peer reviewer happy
·         Teach new auditors what auditing means – why audits are important – and what their responsibilities are. Stop treating them like mushrooms and do your best to impart your hard earned wisdom to them.
·         Accept the fact that we may be the only ones with knowledge of a particular situation that have any inclination to do something about it.   The players in the process are not interested in changing or telling on themselves.  We have to do it – and our role is very important.
And above all, remember, that we have a great weight on our shoulders.  We have an ultimate responsibility to the public – to the taxpayers - not to let things get out of hand.  We have the power to hold people accountable for their actions – and this is a significant role in the world.   
 
GAGAS  1.02 The concept of accountability for use of public resources and government authority is key to our nation’s governing processes.
 
More power to you! 
 

This blog

Governmental auditors unite! Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of “The Yellow Book Interpreted” and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors. Whether you are an internal auditor or monitor for a government entity or a CPA doing grant audits, you will enjoy Leita’s humorous take on the complexity of auditing in the government environment.

More from this blog

Bloggers crew

Steve Knowles has spent 25 years in business and practice in the UK, but he also worked in the states and the years haven't dulled his way of seeing an alternative view to everyone else, and every day is a new adventure.

42535

Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies.

74783

Allan Boress, CPA, with over 25 years as a practitioner and consultant to the accounting profession. Mr. Boress is the author of 12 published books in 6 different languages, including a best-seller, The "I-Hate-Selling" Book.

47513

Larry Perry, CPA, CPA Firm Support Services, LLC, is the author of accounting and auditing manuals, author and presenter of live staff training seminars, and author of webcast and self-study CPE programs. He blogs about small audits, reviews, and compilations.

87239
Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.
19978

Maria Calabrese, CIR, Human Resources manager for Fazio, Mannuzza, Roche, Tankel, LaPilusa, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, Maria's topics revolve around the world of: Mentoring, Performance management, and The "Y Generation," a.k.a. "The whY generation".

54632

William Brighenti is a CPA, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified [Business] Valuation Analyst, operating an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Accountants CPA Hartford.

79330

Ken Garen, CPA, is the co-founder and President of Universal Business Computing Company (www.ubcc.com), a software development firm of high-volume, high-productivity accounting and payroll technology.

24557

Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.

63051

Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP is the CPA Programs Leader for Intacct Corporation responsible for leading the CPA/BPO Partners nationally.

33943
Brian Strahle is the owner of LEVERAGE SALT, LLC where he provides state and local tax technical services to accounting firms, law firms and tax research organizations across the United States. He also writes a weekly column in Tax Analysts State tax Notes entitled, "The SALT Effect." For more info, visit his website: www.leveragestateandlocaltax.com
101116
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through a hybrid of strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. An accredited consultant, Scott works with companies, organizations and individuals in professional services (accounting, finance, medical, legal, engineering), high-tech and B2B/B2C product/service sales.
25246

Rita Keller is a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, author, mentor and blogger. She has over 30 years hands-on experience in CPA firm management, marketing, technology and administrative operations.

51498
Stacy Kildal is the mom of two fantastic kids, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Enterprise Solutions ProAdvisor, Sleeter Group Certified Consultant, a nationally recognized member of the Intuit Trainer and Writer Network, and co-host of RadioFree QuickBooks.
27077
Michael Alter's blog specializes in providing practical advice to those who seek greater profitability and practice management tactics that enhance deeper client relationships.
31378

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, leads a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.

98557

The IMA Young Professionals Blog features the insights of IMA’s Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.

32569

FEI Financial Reporting Blog provides highlights from SEC, PCAOB, FASB, IASB, and other regulatory news, including reporting under Sarbanes-Oxley Sect 404. It is written by Edith Orenstein, Director of Technical Policy Analysis at FEI.

109442

Sue Anderson has 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently she is the program director for online CPE provider CPE Link.

59774

Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.

38601
Caleb Newquist is the Editor-in-Chief of Sift Media US, overseeing content for both AccountingWEB and Going Concern.
65554

Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of "The Yellow Book Interpreted" and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors.

91397

AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too! Members of our British team who publish AccountingWEB.co.uk share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.

52501