Generally Accepted Accounting Principles

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Generally Accepted Accounting Principles

The standard accounting rules, regulations, and procedures used by companies in maintaining their financial records.

Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) provide companies and accountants with a consistent set of guidelines that cover both broad accounting principles and specific practices. For example, accountants use GAAP standards to prepare financial statements.

In response to the Stock Market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, Congress passed the Securities Act in 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act in 1934. Among other things, these acts established a methodology for standardizing accounting practices among publicly held companies. The task of creating and maintaining accounting standards was handled by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) from 1936 until 1973. In 1973, the responsibility was taken over by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which was established the same year.

The Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council (FASAC), which is composed of 33 members from both the public and private sectors, advises the FASB on matters that may affect or influence GAAP rules. These 33 individuals meet quarterly to discuss accounting issues and gather information, which they then present to FASB. Essentially, FASAC serves as FASB's sounding board. FASAC is overseen by the Financial Accounting Foundation, an independent organization whose 16-member board of trustees chooses FASAC's 33 members. The FASB is also monitored by the Corporation Finance division of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Among the organizations that influence GAAP rules are the AICPA and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Other countries have their own GAAP rules, which are set by their versions of the FASB. For example, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) sets GAAP standards in Canada.

Publicly held companies are required to conform to GAAP standards. Specifically, the Securities Act and the Securities Exchange Act established a requirement that publicly held companies must undergo an external audit by an independent accountant once a year. In the 2000s, companies faced increased scrutiny in light of the widely publicized cases involving such major corporations as Enron and World-Com, along with the firm of Arthur Andersen, one of the world's largest accountancy firms. In the case of Enron, for example, the company manipulated its financial information to give the appearance that revenues were much higher than they actually were. After the company declared Bankruptcy in 2001, Arthur Andersen came under attack because its auditors had signed off on Enron's financials despite numerous misgivings. Andersen was found guilty of Obstruction of Justice by a jury in Houston, Texas, in June 2002.

In July 2002, President george w. bush signed the sarbanes-oxley Act, which established new regulations for accounting reform and investor protection. Among the provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley was the creation of the five-member Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, overseen by the SEC. Accounting firms that audit publicly held companies are required to register with the board, which has the authority to inspect audits. Sarbanes-Oxley also requires chief executive officers and chief financial officers of publicly held companies to provide a statement attesting to the veracity of their financial statements.

Further readings

Financial Accounting Standards Board Website. Available online at <> (accessed August 11, 2003).

Securities and Exchange Commission. Available online at <> (accessed August 11, 2003).

Schilit, Howard, 2002. Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks and Fraud on Financial Reports. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Squires, Susan E., et al. 2003. Inside Arthur Andersen: Shifting Values, Unexpected Consequences. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

References in periodicals archive ?
The auditor should evaluate a change in accounting principle to determine whether
Statement 154 also requires that a change in method of depreciation, amortization or depletion for long-lived, nonfinancial assets be accounted for as a change in accounting estimate that is effected by a change in accounting principle
This Statement defines retrospective application as the application of a different accounting principle to prior accounting periods as if that principle had always been used or as the adjustment of previously issued financial statements to reflect a change in the reporting entity.
During the first, second and third quarters of fiscal 2006 the Company did not correctly apply the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles relating to the accounting for the utilization of pre-emergence bankruptcy NOL carry forwards.
116, 117 and 124, also covers two SOPs: 87-2, Accounting for Joint Costs of Informational Materials and Activities of Not-for-Profit Organizations That Include a FundRaising Appeal, and 94-2, The Application of the Requirements of Accounting Research Bulletins, Opinions of the Accounting Principles Board, and Statements and Interpretations of the Financial Accounting Standards Board to Not-for-Profit Organizations.
Were there any changes in the company's accounting principles or practices?
The panel's report makes that point by stating that "under the panel's approach, the auditor would not only evaluate the company's compliance with generally accepted accounting principles but also express, to the audit committee and the board of directors, a qualitative judgment about the company's choice of principles, disclosures and estimates.
Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standards 34, The Hierarchy of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, Including the Application of Standards Issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board
Under current accounting principles, the risk that a taxing authority will challenge a position taken on a tax return is generally treated as an unasserted claim under FAS 5 paragraphs 10 and 38.
A landlord should apply the operating expense provisions of the lease in accordance with standard accounting principles and practices.
For purposes of this paragraph, international assets may be written down by a charge to the Allowance for Loan and Lease Losses or a reduction in the principal amount of the asset by application of interest payments or other collections on the asset; provided, that only those international assets that may be charged to the Allowance for Loan and Lease Losses pursuant to generally accepted accounting principles may be written down by a charge to the Allowance for Loan and Lease Losses.
The Blue Ribbon Committee recommended, and auditing standards now require, that the independent auditors discuss with the audit committee their judgments about the quality, not just the acceptability, of accounting principles in the company's financial reporting.

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