Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

The FASB's Accomplishments to Date: One Participant's Views

Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

The FASB's Accomplishments to Date: One Participant's Views

Article excerpt


When the editor of this journal wrote me in mid-1997, he invited me, as the Financial Accounting Standards Board's (FASB) most recent former chairman, to write a retrospective of the Board's activities to date. The 25th anniversary of the FASB in 1998 just happens to coincide with the 25th anniversary of The Academy of Accounting Historians so it seemed logical to publish an overview of the FASB's history at the same time that The Academy itself was celebrating. I told the editor that such an effort was probably beyond my capabilities (I am not an historian!) and available time. So I agreed to take on a more modest project of reviewing the FASB's activities during "only" my ten and one-half years as chairman (January 1987June 1997).

Surely that would not be too hard a job. All I had to do was organize the few boxes of materials I had moved from my FASB office to The University of Georgia. I am not a compulsive saver by nature, but I had tried to keep some of the "good stuff" from my FASB experiences. Because I had a vague plan to organize that material in order to help recall my experiences many years hence, the chance to write the article was a good excuse to get organized earlier. I assumed that the article would virtually write itself through merely assembling bits and pieces of various documents from my files. I now have a much greater appreciation for the work of historians as my good intentions failed miserably. I have only just begun getting organized after a year away from the FASB. The demands of teaching, speaking, other writing, professional committee work, and an occasional (too rare) golf game have made it clear that organizing my personal archives will not be done soon.

Hence, Plan C. I was asked to participate in a conference in June 1998 at New York University that recognized the FASB's anniversary. My assigned topic was "The Board's Accomplishments." This was a lot more doable than the earlier two ideas, and, in fact, I did it! This paper, thus, began with my outline for that conference and it develops the points I made there in more detail. It is not a history of the FASB or even of the 40% or so of its life that I spent there. But it is a start upon which others and I can build in years to come.

I greatly appreciate the editor's patience with me and I hope that readers will consider this modest effort to be useful. I would be very interested in having discussions with accounting historians who can suggest ways on which this beginning can be built.


Before getting into specifics, I want to cite two relatively recent comments by influential parties about the current state of accounting standards. First, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers had the following to say in an op-ed piece published in the Financial Times (London) on March 11, 1998: If one were writing a history of the American capital market, it is a fair bet that the single most important innovation shaping that market was the idea of generally accepted accounting principles.

That statement expresses very broad support for the accounting requirements developed in the United States over many years. But Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt was more specifically supportive of the FASB's efforts to establish and improve generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) when he said in a speech to the Conference Board on October 8, 1997:

The Financial Accounting Standards Board has filled the role of impartial standard-setter admirably for a quarter century. As you know so well, these same years have witnessed an astonishing evolution and expansion in the techniques of raising capital in our markets. In a climate where change has become a constant, the FASB has consistently sought to ensure the accuracy of financial information, protecting the basic rights of the investor and strengthening public confidence in our markets.

It is comforting to have such distinguished individuals acknowledge the overall success of accounting standard setting in the United States. …

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