A Weight on our Shoulders

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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! 


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