AICPA Chairman Steps up to Rift in Profession

In an interview with Business Week, William Ezzell, chairman of the American Institute of CPAs, stepped up to some pointed questions about a rift in the accounting profession.

Asked if there is a feeling by some CPAs that "the big firms have tarnished the whole profession," Mr. Ezzell replied, "Among CPAs in firms that don't do public-company audits there has been a real sense of concern that the firms that do public-company audits, that individuals in those firms, have not lived up to the standards of this profession. It has been very visible, and it hurts. It hurts us all."

The way to heal the rift, according to Mr. Ezzell, who sees himself as the "restoration chairman," is through teamwork and constructive thinking. "We all have the very important responsibility to do the next things we do very well and get them right," he said. "We all bear responsibility not to unnecessarily throw gasoline onto a fire."

In a separate article, Business Week pointed out members of the profession may have difficulty banding together because some are still angry at the AICPA for setting a tone that emphasized consulting and other non-audit services, initiating misguided lobbying efforts, and failing to defend the integrity of audits and financial statements. ["Bloodied and Bowed," Business Week, Jan. 20, 2003]

Determined to rise above the sins of the past, Mr. Ezzell, a partner in the government affairs office of Deloitte & Touche, supported the Sarbanes-Oxley Act while defending the AICPA lobbying campaign that called the Act a "de facto government takeover of the accounting profession." He said, "Overall, we supported most of the concepts that are in there. On some of the details we would have come out differently."

Equally important, he took the opportunity to comment publicly on some common misperceptions about the role of auditors. "It's easy to say the auditors caused a company to fail," he noted. "We never caused a company to fail -- bad business causes a company to fail. The auditor is not necessarily the business conscience for America."

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