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Accrediting a tax specialty: is now the time?

On Sept. 17, 1992, the AICPA Tax Executive Committee approved moving ahead with a member education and discussion effort that could lead to the adoption of an AICPA-sponsored accreditation program for CPA tax specialists. This article summarizes the background for tax specialty accreditation and briefs members about what the future may hold.

In 1986, the AICPA Council established the Specialization Accreditation Board (SAB)to oversee the accreditation of specialties. The first accredited specialty, the Personal Financial Specialist (formerly Accredited Personal Financial Specialist, or APFS), began in 1987 and now accounts for 620 accredited specialists. At its September 1992 meeting, the AICPA Board of Directors cleared the way for the Institute's second accredited specialty, the Accredited Business Valuator.

In 1989, the SAB established a task force to consider whether the AICPA should accredit a tax specialty. Two years later, that task force disbanded after determining that the Tax Division, and not the SAB, should initiate any effort to accredit tax specialists. The AICPA's support for specialty accreditation was reasserted in the Report of the Special Committee on Governance and Structure, which suggested that the Tax Division should consider the accreditation of a tax specialty.

On the basis of these recommendations, the Tax Division established the Tax Specialization Task Force, to study how tax professionals--including attorneys and commercial preparers--have approached the accreditation of tax specialists. In the process of this study, the task force realized several important points.

* Due to the proliferation of tax designations--not the least of which is the CPA certificate itself-there is already significant potential for public confusion about the qualifications of tax practitioners.

* If the AICPA proceeds with the accreditation of tax specialists, the Council-approved SAB general model for specialty accreditation would have to be used.

* There is very little agreement among tax professionals about what constitutes a tax specialty.

On the last point, many tax practitioners in local firms consider the entire tax field to be a specialty. Large-firm practitioners believe a tax specialist is a tax practitioner who specializes in one or more narrow fields. This leads to a dilemma: If the AICPA accredits a tax specialist, should it accredit a person who is a broad tax specialist, or one who is a taxation specialist in a narrow area?

This question was one of the primary issues that the SAB-sponsored task force was unable to resolve. The Tax Division task force concluded that the accreditation of both narrow and broad tax specialties was not mutually exclusive. However, the task force ultimately concluded that, if the AICPA does accredit tax specialists, it should begin with a broad tax specialty.

Once the task force reached this conclusion, it proceeded to apply the SAB guidelines in the development of an accreditation model. These guidelines set certain minimum standards for any AICPA-sponsored accreditation program. At the same time, they permit a particular specialization accreditation program to impose more rigorous requirements. Presently, at a minimum, any candidate for an AICPA specialty accreditation must ---be an AICPA member in good standing, --hold a valid CPA certificate, --practice at least 200 hours in the field of specialty in each of the three years preceding accreditation, --take an examination in that field, --meet CPE requirements set by the SAB; and --meet such other requirements as may be determined appropriate. Similar requirements, excluding reexamination, are set up for reaccreditation, which is required every three years.

In developing a recommendation for a broad tax specialty, the task force recommended a 500-hour minimum practice requirement in each of the three years preceding accreditation. In addition, the accredited tax specialist should average at least 9.0 hours of tax CPE annually.

The Tax Division task force recommended that its accreditation model for a broad tax specialty be exposed to the membership for its discussion and comment. On Sept. 17, 1992, the Tax Executive Committee approved the Report of the Tax Specialization Task Force, which details the approach outlined. Anyone interested may obtain a copy of the report by sending a self-addressed 9" x 12" envelope with $1.90 postage to Tax Specialization, AICPA, 1455 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20004.

Editor's note: This department is written by the AICPA Tax Division's professional staff. It is designed to heighten awareness of the Division's work and keep readers apprised of Tax Division activities involving tax policy, technical issues and other practice support matters.
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Article Details
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Author:Woehlke, James A.
Publication:The Tax Adviser
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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