We can do better! 3 things to restore trust in the U.S.
"Who will guard the guardians?"
That was how Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., began as he addressed more than 500 CPAs at the MACPA Government / Not-for-Profit Conference at the University of Maryland Conference Center. Using Plato's question to start, Cummings delivered an emotion-packed speech about government, the economy, and our current state of affairs.
Speaking about the economy, Cummings never imagined that Wall Street could take down Main Street or the entire world economy. I agree with this dead-on (read Wired's article on the financial crisis The Secret Formula That Destroyed Wall Street)
He recalled a story from recent testimonies in Congress in which the rating agencies admitted wrongdoing in their ratings of the financial instruments that blew up our economy. He related how government is also at fault as he talked about the recent rash of cabinet nominees who have not paid their taxes.
Have we entered a culture of mediocrity?
"We can do better than this!"
So what do we need to do about this and what does it have to do with CPAs?
He talked about how we have lost trust -- trust in the markets and trust in government. If you believe trust makes everything move faster (and I do), then we need to work to restore trust!
Here are Congressman Cummings' top three ways to restore trust:
- High standards
- Competence and continuing education
I would add accountability as a fourth item, which I think he was getting at with the "guards of the guardians" reference.
So what does this have to do with CPAs? And what does this have to do with this conference?
It's about standards. It's about a commitment to lifelong learning and a culture of integrity.
Cummings said that we, as CPAs, are a great example of these values in action. I was impressed that he got our core values dead-on -- integrity, competence, continued education / lifelong learning, objectivity, being attuned to broad business issues and protecting the public interest.
He challenged us to help "guard the guardians" as citizens. He called on us to maintain our high standards and to avoid the "soft bigotry of low expectations."
I want to offer a few contributions by CPAs in our efforts to do better in these difficult times:
- Let's democratize the financial data. Expand the SEC's efforts to implement XBRL at the government level to give us the tools to guard the guardians. (See my prior post, Time for a Revolution.) I think XBRL can do for financial accountability what blogs and social networks have done to hold media and governments more accountable.
- Our work on financial literacy at both the national and state levels. We have worked with the military to provide free financial planning, brought financial literacy to high schools and colleges, and created a low-income taxpayer alert to protect them from tax preparer fraud, along with serving on the Maryland Coaliation of Financial Literacy.
- We are working hard to make CPAs better citizens by teaching them the legislative process (federal and state) and how they can make a difference by becoming more involved in the political process. (I am writing this from D.C., where we will be going on Hill visits over the next few days.)
- We are working collaboratively with Maryland's associations to see if we can help move Maryland forward even faster. We have repurposed our Maryland Business and Accounting Expo to become a platform to come together to collaborate and collectively raise our competency in this changing and complex world. We are working on resources for workers in transition and special training offers for unemployed business professionals.
- We added an official oath for newly licensed CPAs this past year to demonstrate our profession's commitment to the public interest. The next ceremony is scheduled for June 16 at the Baltimore Convention Center. (More information here.)
Congressman Cummings was at the conference due to the persistence and hard work by Conference Committee member Erin Singshinsuk. Special thanks to conference Chair Joel Grover with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, co-Chair Joe Oliva with the Department of Defense and all of the committee members who worked to have another great conference for our government and not-for-profit CPAs.
- Check out some photos from the event here.
- Congressman Cummings' recommended read, The Speed of Trust, by Stephen Covey.
- See a video clip of last year's swearing-in ceremony.
What do you think? Is the Congressman onto something?