Midyear conference underscores TEI's strengths. (President's Corner).
On all counts, this year's meeting succeeded. From Treasury Secretary John Snow's opening address on Monday morning to the final three concurrent sessions on Wednesday morning, the conference did not disappoint from a technical perspective. Secretary Snow's keynote marked the first time in more than four decades that the Administration's top economic official addressed TEI, and I was pleased not only to introduce the Secretary to TEI but to introduce the C-SPAN audience to the Institute and its activities. Secretary Snow's incisive comments on the economy and the President's tax package--most notably, the Administration's dividend exclusion proposal--set the stage for a number of other conference sessions, including a lively, informative, and bipartisan panel of congressional aides (moderated by TEI's own Ray Rossi and Fred Murray) who discussed the prospects for legislation in the coming months.
Keynote Speakers from the IRS
At our Monday luncheon, Larry Langdon, Commissioner of the IRS's Large and Mid-Size Business Division, delivered his valedictory address to TEI. Commissioner Langdon's participation in the conference was not originally billed that way--as his last as LMSB Commissioner. Rather, he was slated to reprise an earlier appearance where he updated conference registrants on LMSB's initiatives, including the much-heralded "LIFE" (or limited issue focused examination) program. Shortly before the conference, however, Larry announced that he would be retiring from government service at the end of May. Hence, the conference afforded TEI an opportunity to hear from LMSB's Commissioner "one last time" and also to express its appreciation to him for his ongoing contributions to tax administration, first as a member of the Institute (and, indeed, its 1988-1989 President) and then as a senior government official.
Larry Langdon was not the only person the Institute thanked at its Monday luncheon. The Institute also used the occasion to present its Distinguished Service Award to Charles Rossotti, who led the Internal Revenue Service from 1997 through most of 2003. As Commissioner, he oversaw the IRS's reorganization into four operating divisions, and undertook to bring more business-like practices to the IRS's processes. He also undertook to recruit top-notch tax professionals from the private sector--including Larry Langdon and another past TEI President, Linda Burke--and supported their efforts to streamline processes, improve guidance, and shorten audits.
In presenting the Institute's award to Mr. Rossotti, I commented that "Not a few tax professionals--including perhaps several in the room today--questioned whether a non-accountant, non-tax lawyer could effectively lead the IRS. The past five years proved the doubters wrong, not by happenstance but by the Herculean efforts of Charles Rossotti." I also noted that the Commissioner continually reached out to TEI, addressing 10 of 10 meetings during his tenure, concluding that he left the IRS a much stronger and more productive agency.
TEI looks forward to working with Mr. Rossotti's successor--Mark Everson--who should be confirmed by the Senate within a few weeks. Larry Langdon's successor has not yet been identified, but TEI remains confident that he or she will continue the good works of the LMSB Division. We hope that the new IRS Commissioner and LMSB Commissioner will be able to join us in Atlanta next October for the Institute's 58th Annual Conference.
I would be remiss if I did not also thank acting IRS Commissioner Bob Wenzel for his participation in the Midyear Conference. Mr. Wenzel has devoted nearly four decades of his life to government service, and at the luncheon honoring Charles Rossotti, he performed triple duty: He expressed appreciation to both Larry Langdon and Commissioner Rossotti for their exemplary contributions to tax administration; he briefly discussed important initiatives of the tax agency; and he shared insights into the man he worked with as Deputy Commissioner. He did all these things with eloquence and grace.
Bob Wenzel also was kind enough to assemble his senior leadership team just a few days before the Midyear Conference for TEI's annual liaison meeting. The agenda for the meeting covered issues as diverse as tax shelters and tax accrual workpapers, the outsourcing of collection activities to private companies, and business systems modernization. The more than two hours Commissioner Wenzel, Chief Counsel B. John Williams, and other senior officials spent with us was extraordinarily informative, and on behalf of the Institute, I thank them.
Reports from the Treasury Department and the PCAOB
I also thank the officials who participated in TEI's mid-February liaison meeting with the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Policy. The Treasury group was chaired by Assistant Secretary Pamela Olson, who displayed the traits and attributes that made her an effective advocate for her clients, a sought-after participant in tax programs offered by TEI and other organizations, the chair of the ABA Section of Taxation, and the first woman to serve as Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy: a deep and certain knowledge of the tax law, a keen appreciation for the practical, refreshing candor, and an unfailing sense of humor. The agenda for the Treasury meeting (as well as similar one for a meeting with LMSB) is reprinted in this issue of The Tax Executive, and the minutes of the session will be published in the May-June issue.
Assistant Secretary Olson was also a keynoter at this year's Midyear Conference, and I commend her remarks--which can be accessed through TEI's website (www.tei.org)--to everyone interested in sound tax policy and administration. Although she touched on several technical issues, her remarks focused on underlying integrity of the business community:
In the past three years, ... [t]he American businessman has gone from hero to zero in nothing flat. Perhaps American business leaders should never have been so lionized--we all have feet of clay--but neither should they be demonized. Above all, we must remember that much of what has happened was caused by the outrageous acts of a few. It would be foolhardy for us to judge the many on the basis of the acts of a few.... Although stories of corporate criminality still dominate business magazine covers and headlines, ... the truth is that American businessmen and women have upheld and will continue to uphold the great strengths and virtues of American society.... If you look, I believe you'll find that in the business world, ordinary people show extraordinary character every day.
This is something all of us--whether tax executive, practitioner, or government employee--should remember as we work to improve tax policy administration. We must also remember that, as much as we prefer otherwise, we cannot turn the clock back on Enron, WorldCom, and other business scandals. This point was brought home by the fourth keynote speaker at the Midyear Conference, Daniel Goelzer of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. Mr. Goelzer's remarks (which are reprinted in this issue) underscore the basic truth that the work and responsibilities of all of us have been affected by Sarbanes-Oxley and other changes in the corporate accountability landscape.
Other Midyear Notes
I want to take this opportunity to thank TEI's committee chairs, the members who served as moderators or panelists during the conference, and all of our speakers for their contributions to the conference's success. My appreciation also extends to the firms who sponsored the Midyear Conference, for their financial and other support enables the Institute to advance its important educational, networking, and advocacy objectives.
A special thank you goes to the members and other registrants who travelled to Washington for the conference just a few days after the onset of the war with Iraq. Many colleagues were unable to attend because of company travel restrictions and heightened security concerns, and many who made the trip had to endure greater than usual logistical hurdles in attending. Their forbearance is very much appreciated.
Finally, I was honored at the Tuesday night banquet to introduce the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard for the presentation of the colors, a tradition that took on extra poignancy this year because of the war. At the banquet, I also had the occasion to thank those assembled for the support they had provided to my family and me during a challenging time. I extend that appreciation to all of you.
TEI Thanks the Platinum Sponsors of its 53rd Midyear Conference:
Baker & McKenzie * Deloitte & Touche LLP
Ernst & Young LLP * KPMG LLP
Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw * McKee Nelson LLP
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP * RIA
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2003|
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