The year in review.

Author:Zelisko, Judith P.
Position:Tax Executives Institute's accomplishments

This past year was an exciting year for TEI and for me personally. Last August, TEI's Board of Directors adopted an overall theme for the year ("Be Effective, Stay Effective") and identified five general areas in which our effectiveness would be challenged and validated. The specific objectives we adopted relate to TEI's principal areas of activity--education, networking, and advocacy--but also included items focused on core membership services and effective management. With such an ambitious agenda, it is hardly surprising that we did not accomplish all that we set out to do. But a review of the accomplishments set forth below demonstrates that TEI continues to be a growth-oriented, high-achieving organization of dedicated volunteers and staff.

Be Current, Stay Current ... Through Quality Education Programs on Tax Developments and Tax Management Issues

For sixty years, TEI has rightly prided itself on the quality and cost effectiveness of its educational programs. Given the pace of change and the ever-expanding scope of the tax executive's role, it is more important than ever for TEI members to stay informed, and I am pleased to report that TEI stepped forward in a number of important ways.

During the past year, TEI held a full complement of conferences, seminars, courses, and telephone/web conferences. All in all, 2,957 individuals registered for our programs (the number participating is likely considerably more because only one individual need register for a telephone seminar in order for a whole department to "attend"). Our conferences continue to attract top-level keynote speakers, such as Secretary of the Treasury John Snow, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, IRS Chief Counsel Don Korb, and SEC Chief Accountant Donald Nicolaisen, with their remarks being broadcast by C-SPAN or other media outlets.

One aspect of our 2004 Annual Conference deserves mention. I was delighted that 20 former TEI presidents joined us in New Orleans to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our founding. From a group of 14 New York-based tax professionals in 1944 to more than 5,800 tax executives worldwide today, TEI has grown into a truly global organization. The past Institute presidents who attended last fall's conference (and all our former leaders) pursued and built upon the vision of Paul Smith and TEI's other founders; they kept the organization relevant, focused, and member-driven. That Morris Rinehart (our 1964-1965 president) attended the New Orleans meeting--and addressed the conference--was a special treat.

While the conferences are the hallmarks of TEI's educational curriculum, two other programs merit attention--our FAS 109 Seminar in November 2004 (which attracted 349 registrants) and our Senior Tax Executive Conference in May (which sold out and garnered excellent ratings). I was especially pleased that Brunswick Corporation's Chairman and CEO, George Buckley, participated in the STE program. His "CEO's View of Sarbanes-Oxley" was a highlight of the two-day conference.

TEI's committees and staff worked diligently to plan, promote, and execute these programs. If there is a downside to our educational programs, it is that attendance at some programs did not meet our expectations. We remain hopeful the decline is temporary and attributable to external forces (e.g., the uncertain economy and the continuing aftershocks of Sarbanes-Oxley), but are working to identify the causes and, where needed, improve the programs. Among other things, the Institute has expanded its policy of offering discounts to multiple registrants from the same company.

Finally, during the year the Institute completed its 2004-2005 Corporate Tax Department Survey. The survey--a 184-page printed commentary and representative tables, accompanied by a CD-ROM containing more than 12,000 tables--will enable tax executives to benchmark more effectively and efficiently. We had also committed to reviewing the efficacy of a salary survey, and while no decision has been made, significant informal work has been completed.

Be Connected, Stay Connected ... by Enhancing Member Communications and Strengthening Network of Tax Professionals

TEI's launch of a new website in August 2004 helped kickstart the new year. From real-time information on TEI's advocacy and educational activities to the reinvigorated discussion forums to the sites maintained by many of our local chapters to the communications functionality available to all members through the site, TEI's website team created an Internet presence that is both welcoming and informative. We are working to improve the site and thereby make it an indispensable stop on all tax executives' web surfing. If you have not done so already, please log on to www.tei.org and share your ideas for making the site even better.

In late 2004, TEI hired a Communications Specialist and realigned duties of other staff in order to enhance our customer service to members and other users of the site. Among other things, the Institute developed a chapter website administrators guide and held a webconference for chapter website administrators to help them create and enhance their own websites. We also devoted a session at the 2005 Leadership Seminar to the website.

Internet technology and e-mail have expanded the tax executive's network, narrowing the distance that exists among business colleagues and our fellow tax practitioners. This past year we undertook to use a somewhat dated form of technology--telephone conferencing--to enable TEI's Board of Directors to meet more frequently than our traditional three times a year (in conjunction with our conferences and our Annual Meeting of Members). Specifically, we amended the By-Laws to permit telephonic meetings of the Board, and then convened two meetings (in January and June) to "bridge the gap" between our face-to-face meetings. Based on the feedback received, these telephonic meetings will continue.

Be a Voice, Have a Voice ... Through Enhanced Advocacy

In discussing TEI's advocacy activities this past year, it is difficult to know where to begin. We have had an extraordinarily busy year. From our liaison meetings in Ottawa and Washington, to our European Chapter's involvement with the European Union and OECD, to our briefs in state tax cases, to our comments on the American Jobs Creation Act (both before and after its enactment), TEI has striven to give voice to the real-world concerns of the business community. Given our diversity, there may be occasions in which the Institute is unable to take a position, but time and time again, we have weighed in and have had a positive effect on the outcome.

Five projects deserve mention. First, TEI continues to be a leader in opposing the enactment of a provision requiring the Chief Executive Officer to sign either the corporate tax return or a declaration concerning the company's return preparation process. Even if this provision is ultimately enacted, we are confident that we have contributed to the narrowing and refinement of the proposal. (The same is true in respect of our continuing opposition to the codification of the economic substance doctrine, at both the federal and state levels.) Second, we have worked effectively with the IRS and Treasury Department in setting guidance priorities under the 2004 tax law. Third, we successfully advocated for an amendment to Circular 230, recognizing the unique character of in-house tax professionals and therefore exempting them from the more onerous provisions of the IRS regulations that govern "practice before the IRS." Had the Institute's efforts not been successful, all TEI members would be faced with expensive, time-consuming, and (I daresay) non-value-added compliance activities.

The fourth development involved a first--TEI's first-ever testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Institute's work in support of the Dutch and Barbados treaties--we were one of only two private sector witnesses at the hearing--contributed to the Senate's ultimate approval of the treaties.

The "state of play" on the fifth project--corporate e-filing--is more uncertain. TEI has been in the forefront on this issue, which involves significant tax administration and technology challenges. We reached out to the IRS from the very beginning, raising practical concerns about the IRS mandate and working with both the IRS and outside vendors to identify both problems and their solutions. We also continue to press the IRS to issue early guidance on what type of hardship waivers will be granted, and remain hopeful that meaningful relief will be forthcoming.

TEI's advocacy successes were noteworthy, and I am pleased to say that our Communications Committee and staff worked diligently to share information about our activities with both members and the public. Through the frequent updating of our website, monthly email messages to members, and outreach to tax publications and media outlets, the Institute better communicated both its positions on specific issues as well as the process by which it reached those positions. We also stepped up our efforts to encourage more members to become involved in our projects, and while we can always do more, I am pleased with the progress we have made.

Be Involved, Stay Involved ... By Identifying and Addressing Demographic Trends and Other Barriers to Membership Growth

TEI continued to grow during the year. Our European Chapter held its largest meeting ever in May, and I was honored to travel to Copenhagen and address the group. TEI also expanded to another continent during the year, chartering our first chapte in Asia and thereby expanding the global reach of the Institute's educational, networking, and advocacy benefits. Closer to my home in Chicago, the Institute has taken steps to organize a chapter in Omaha. My congratulations to everyone who contributed to the growth of our chapters.

We also took the opportunity...

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