Accounting System, Running Your Business

The Good Lord Forgive Me, My Favorite Embezzlement Story

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1995-06-23/news/9506230160_1_arthur-andersen-tax-officials-fraud-and-tax-charges

Audit Firm Victim Of Embezzling

June 23, 1995|By Matt O’Connor , Tribune Staff Writer.

Arthur Andersen & Co., which helps set up internal controls for companies to prevent employee theft and fraud, itself was victimized by a longtime employee who embezzled $2.3 million over five years, authorities alleged Thursday.

During 21 years with the Chicago-based firm, Raymond R. Parcon, 42, of Naperville, rose to become a tax manager in the firm’s U.S. Tax Group, from which position he engineered the clever scheme, according to charges filed in federal court.

Among his duties, Parcon had authority to issue checks to federal and state tax authorities to pay Andersen’s employee tax obligations, prosecutors said.

On repeated occasions between mid-1989 and early 1994, he falsified paperwork to make it appear sizable checks had been sent to the Internal Revenue Service and Illinois tax officials to cover the company’s withholding obligations, prosecutors said.

In reality, Parcon submitted those checks, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time as payments on his personal tax debt, and then claimed huge refunds from the IRS and the Illinois Department of Revenue, the charges alleged.

When the money was refunded to him, Parcon deposited the funds in his personal bank accounts, the government said.

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Your Tax Accountant is Our Friend – A Natural Partnership

We do not

  • Prepare tax returns
  • Audit

We do

  • Government contracting compliance (to include helping with compliance audits)
  • Cost accounting

Often, small business government contractors require all of these services. The written tax code numbers in the thousands of pages as do the laws and regulations relevant to government contracting compliance. Few accountants make the attempt to keep up with both areas and even within larger accounting firms the specialties (tax and government contracting compliance) are split among different practitioners.

One of the many pleasures in our practice is working with the contractor’s tax accountant or bookkeeper. The contractor benefits by having access to two professionals with a bit of crossover for the same price. Two opinions in harmony, most of the time.

An Example

I flew in to support a contractor on an accounting system audit in conjunction with his tax accountant. DCAA showed up and we began one of the strangest audits in the almost thirty years of work in this area. If I told all of the story, DCAA would attempt to send my old unit from the 82nd Airborne after me, but I will tell part of it.

Toward the end of the rather strange audit, the DCAA auditor went on a rampage about small business contractors keeping their books on a cash basis.

This is not an unusual complaint made by some DCAA auditors, but I had never heard contractors referred to as idiots for the practices, especially in front of one of these “idiot” contractors.

I went on my usual contractor defense, explaining to the auditor the history of accrued accounting and the very classical utilization of the GAAP accounting cycle which allowed you to keep the books on a cash basis during the period and make the accruals as part of the closing process.

In this case, as in too many others, my purpose was to remind and educate the auditor not to rush to judgement and to expand their knowledge of the accounting world beyond the limited field of DCAA auditing. I sought to gently argue that the DCAA auditor’s strong comments were not only wrong but displayed a lack of knowledge on how accounting is actually practiced in the trenches.

The client’s tax accountant took a different approach, and I loved it.

He turned to the auditor and told him in no uncertain terms that the contractor kept his books on a cash basis because he, the tax accountant, recommend the contractor do so and that any small business owner that did not do so was an idiot and paying thousands of dollars in unnecessary taxes.

The room fell silent and I managed to keep a straight face as I backed the tax accountant up and said that not only was he correct, it was common sense, and allowed under GAAP as I previously outlined (cash converted to accrual during period close).

The DCAA auditor quickly packed up and left. I held my breath for a couple of days until DCAA approved the contractor’s accounting system, even though I knew that both the tax accountant and I made strong arguments in defense of the contractor’s practices.

This is simply one of the countless examples of where we worked hand in hand with the contractor’s tax accountant and/or bookkeeper to move the contractor’s business forward.

Indeed, many of our referrals actually come from the contractor’s outside accountant and I am happy to return the favor when one of my clients is seeking tax or audit work.

I will direct the reader to a previous article about cash v accrual accounting for the specific accounting arguments at https://dcaacompliance.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/all-the-fuss-over-accrued-accounting/.

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The Small Business Contractor

You

You know who you are. Yes, you, the one trying to figure out just when DCAA is going to enter your life, or worse, a non DCAA auditor or government official is assessing your operations and accounting system. Perhaps, just perhaps, you already had the pleasure and are reading this simply to improve the experience (read: “recover from disaster”).

Why You?

If You Want the Money

Federal regulations require an approved accounting system before the government can award a cost type contract.[1]

  • Cost type contracts are those contracts where the government reimburses the contractor for the contractor’s approved costs, director indirect, and sometimes a fee. The government recently expanded the definition to include fixed price contracts that allow for “progress payments”.
  • Cost contracts make up almost half of the contracts issued by the federal government and the majority of service contracts.

Two Presidents, Regan and Obama, started out their presidencies trying to reduce or even forbid government cost type contracts. In both cases, the number of cost type contracts actually grew.

There is a wealth of government created documents justifying the use of cost type contracts. Most of them center on the necessity of the government to assume the risks associated with the contract. Since cost type contracts are a reality, let me just make two observations and move on:

  • Cost type contracts require greater management and involvement on the government’s parts. They are involved in every aspect of the contract as opposed to simply writing a check upon delivery. DCAA has gone so far as to request from Congress in their annual report 24/7 access to contractor’s accounting systems. Greater government involvement translates into a larger number of government employees to manage an audit the process at all steps. In short, cost type contracts keep government employees ‘busy’ and ‘over worked’. DCAA continues to add new positons each of the last several years.
  • You hear about cost overruns and this is one of the ‘selling’ points for cost type contracts. If you run over budget the government will send you a check. It happens, but there is a lot of paperwork involved and a lot of compliance requirements. More often than not, the opposite happens and contractors do not make as much money on cost type contracts as they would on fixed price work. This translates into an excellent reason why the government likes cost type contracts – the actual amount paid to the contractor is reduced and paid to the bureaucrats instead in the form of salaries and other benefits (see point one).

One of the bizarre results of the crisis government contracting entered into in the year 2008, is the increased award of cost type contracts to small contractors without an approved accounting system despite the requirements forbidding this. It started out by contracting officers just ignoring the regulations in order to get the critical contracts issued, but now some of them are actually ‘approving’ the accounting systems after the contractor fills out a form.

Of course contractors may pay for this action by the contracting officers. Recent Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) decisions that asserted that a lack of an approved accounting system was no defense for the contractor[2] and contractors with cost contracts and an unapproved accounting system appear to be holding all of the risks.

I am not telling contractors to turn down contracts, I am just pointing out issues for consideration.

Your solution may be as simple as taking the contract and making sure your accounting system is fully compliant in anticipation of the day DCAA or another auditor working for the government shows up.

The process of adopting and implementing an accounting system that would win government approval reduces the contractor’s risk and provides critical information to help them identify and manage costs.

Excerpt from Surviving a DCAA Audit available on Amazon 

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[1] FAR (16-301-3(a)(3)) “(3) The contractor’s accounting system is adequate for determining costs applicable to the contract or order…”

 

[2] ASBCA 56581 and 52593

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Tom Price and Indirect Costs

Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, seems to hold a limited understanding of cost accounting and the necessity of indirect costs. I guess he is one of those guys who believes that organizations can exist without administrative costs.

Both the House and the Senate rejected the change this week.

“Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, said the government

could achieve huge savings next year without harming lifesaving research by paring

back payments to universities for overhead — the “indirect costs” of research

financed by the health institutes.

 

These include the cost of utilities, internet service, data storage, the construction

and upkeep of laboratories, disposal of hazardous waste and compliance with federal

rules protecting human subjects of clinical research.

 

“About 30 percent of the grant money that goes out is used for indirect

expenses, which, as you know, means that that money goes for something other than

the research that’s being done,” Mr. Price said.”

New York Times April 3, 12017

 If you are uncomfortable with the press reporting on this issue, feel free to watch the testimony on the House’s site. If you think that is fake new, I cannot help you.

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DCAA and the Myth About Return on Investment (ROI)

Return on Investment (ROI) always proved a concept of limited value and extreme abstraction in government.  How does one measure the ROI associated with a paratrooper sitting on the ground at the green ramp waiting to deploy in harm’s way?  How is the ROI measured on a nuclear missile resting in its silo?

Several years ago, DCAA adopted ROI as one of its main arguments to defend (or excuse) the quantity and quality of their work to taxpayers.  ROI was an alternative to other measurements such as audit productivity, down to 1.06 audits per year per auditor from 1.5 in 2012.   Additionally, form your own opinion about the fact that DCAA wins only half of the fights that get past the auditors and are made by someone outside DCAA.

Let us not forget that one of DCAA’s critical missions, and long neglected by their own admission, is to prevent or reduce costs associated with cost findings by auditing by approving or disapproving contractor’s business systems. I argue that developing and subsequent auditing of a compliant accounting system is a major return on investment for both the contractor and government. I will point out that DCAA recently developed and launched new tools that make major strides in this area with preliminary checklist forms and new audit programs that I believe will greatly enhance DCAA’s future efforts in this area.

I question how DCAA measures ROI as they include forward pricing ‘savings’ in the calculation. This is a classic example of counting your chickens before the eggs hatch.  If a contractor proposes $100,000 in fringe benefit costs and DCAA only approves $80,000, DCAA counts the $20,000 toward ROI. Unfortunately, when the year ends the contractor may discover the fringe costs proved $110,000 and bill the government for the $30,000 in difference.  To further complicate the issue, the incurred cost submission may propose a different number and the subsequent audit even a fourth number[1].

The irony of all of this is the development of the ROI model contributed to DCAA’s current crisis, the continued replacement of DCAA as incurred cost proposal auditors by outside accounting firms. ROI is now a dangerous temptation in evaluating ‘independent” accounting firms’ “success” in auditing incurred cost proposals.

In recent testimony before Congress, Industry complained that DCAA acted more like a collection agency than auditors. Imagine our response if this becomes formalized as commercial contractors are awarded contracts on their promises regarding return on investment.

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[1] There is no indication that DCAA follows the potential saving through the entire chain. First, they do not report how they calculated the ‘savings’ and given the incurred cost proposal backlog of years, one would wonder about the practicality of going beyond the simplest and first number.

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I Will Pay You on Tuesday Out of My Award

 Let us finish my look at the recent Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) Technology Systems, Inc. (TSI) (ASBCA 59577 and the nine areas I believe are worth discussing:

  1. Supporting Material Overhead rate
  2. DCAA auditor independence
  3. DCAA’s right to change their mind in subsequent audits
  4. Tax vs. Book on depreciation issues
  5. Bonuses
  6. Accrued costs crossing fiscal year
  7. Unapproved subcontractors
  8. An excellent example of DCAA properly developing findings.
  9. Documenting consultants work product

The scratched out areas were discussed in previous articles. Today, I am going to look at the last two areas, “Accrued costs crossing the fiscal year” and “Bonuses”. Again, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. I am an accountant and there may be some accounting advice.

Accrued Costs Across Fiscal Years.

Twice in the ruling the government raises an objection to the allowability of TCI’s costs because TCI accrued them in one year and expensed them in a subsequent year. At least I hope that is the government’s objection as the only reasonable alternative opens up a can of worms that the government would appear blind to.

Here are the two objections:

The ACO also disallowed some of the bonuses because they were paid in March 2008, in the fiscal year after FY 2007, which is the subject of this ICP.

And

According to the COFD, this prohibition prevented TSI from submitting its legal costs contemporaneously with their being incurred, 15 but the reason that TSI gave the DCAA for submitting the costs in the FY 2007 ICP, instead of in 2006 (when it supposedly became aware of the fact that it was cleared of wrongdoing), was that it “forgot” (R4, tab 16 at 260). Mr. Fletcher (with whom DCAA was dealing and would have been the person who DCAA claimed stated that he “forgot” to include the legal fees in FY 2006) denies ever making such a statement to DCAA (tr. 2/212).

For its part, the government does not dispute the fact that the legal fees for the investigation, as subjected to the 20% discount, would otherwise be allowable (see gov’t br. at 62, 64 ), but argues that the fees were expensed to the wrong year (id. at 62-63).

In the first case, the Board ignored the timing argument and disallowed the bonuses for reasons we will discuss later. In the second case, the Board directly rejected the timing argument in reference to the legal fees and allowed the majority of the fees.

Over the years, I encountered this timing argument from only a couple of DCAA auditors. Auditors raised the argument rarely and we addressed it pretty quickly by responding that GAAP required the accruals. The question displays a limited understanding of accrued accounting which is forgivable in a young auditor working through the differences between cost and expense. It is a bit more difficult to understand when the limited understanding rises all the way up DCAA and into an appeal before the Appeals Board. It is disheartening to look at the Appeals Board teaching DCAA GAAP 101.

Let us start with a simple absolute rule: if a cost is properly accrued and recorded, this is only reconsidered if the original entry is invalidated. An example of invalidation would be a subsequent decision not to pay the accrued expense. I would also note that GAAP enjoys extensive procedures for addressing such a subsequent event.

Legal fees present some unique challenges in government contractor accounting. Legal fees are, in my humble opinion, one of the only reasons for suspense accounts, as I go into detail about in this previous article. As I recommend in this article, legal costs where the allowability is unknown at yearend should be capitalized (after being accounted for tax and financial statement purposes) and expensed out as either claimed or unclaimed when their character is recognized. This would be a GAAP compliant policy in keeping with government contracting requirements.

In order for the government’s argument to make sense — that the contractor “forget” (see above) and the contractor expensed them in the wrong year, there are only three reasonable possibilities: 1) the costs were not on the general ledger or 2) the expenses were not recorded properly in the first place (capitalized instead of expensed), or 3) the expenses were capitalized but not expensed properly (the wrong year).

Obviously, the first issue is the can of worms I mentioned earlier and, if true, we would be experiencing a completely different discussion.

The second possibility is one that major publicly traded corporations are often accused of – unnecessary capitalization to control earnings. Not something a tax paying small business if often accused of, and again the argument here would not be timing but why the expense was capitalized.

As noted above, GAAP enjoys extensive rules to address mistakes surrounding the third possibility and DCAA does not appear to raise these, especially in light of both times DCAA raises timing in this case (bonus and legal fees).

No, DCAA seems to object to the fact that the contractor wishes to charge the government in 2007 but not pay it until 2008.

Hm, isn’t that concept enshrined in the FAR at FAR 52.216-7? The one where a few DCAA auditors chastise contractors for not paying accrued expenses fast enough?

Come on DCAA, the real question is if the contractor reversed the accruals in 2008 before paying them or just expensed them again.

Bonuses

Bonuses or Incentive pay, present unique challenges for contractors. The issue is complicated by the specific and narrow regulations found within the FAR.

The Appeals Board quotes FAR 31-205.6(f) in its entirety but also utilized FAR 31-205.6(a)(6) when they refer to profits:

“This determination is buttressed by evidence that Mr. Fletcher considered the bonus pool to effectively come from company profits and the fact its distribution ca at the whim of TSI’s “in” group, justifying “close scrutiny,” Nolan Brothers, 437 F.2d at 1834, which it simply cannot withstand.”.

Every time a DCAA auditor brings up the ‘distribution of profits’ I respond, or am tempted to respond, that the statute defines the 401(k) as a ‘profit sharing’ plan and that is allowable.

I believe it is proper for DCAA, and in this case the Appeals Board, to use the IRS distribution of profits as a method for assessing unclaimed bonuses, I just wish they understood it better. The IRS standard is directed toward ‘C’ corporations that pay out all of the profits at year end as a bonus to avoid the double taxation inherit in ‘C’ corporations. But the rules work as a good method of determining what is a profit and what is earned compensation.

What every small business contractor wants is the right to award employees, at management’s complete discretion, for a job well done. I imagine the employees would like the same.

The regulations take all the fun out. In order to pass muster a bonus plan must be so well written that it is “an agreement to make such payment”. TCI failed this standard even after they thought they received DCAA acceptance.

So what is a poor small business contractor to do? Why the same thing the huge federal government does: avoid the words “bonus” or “incentive pay”.

Remember the GSA bonus scandals a few years ago? When the federal government handed out millions of dollars to employees despite poor performance? Look for the words “bonus” or “incentive pay” in GSA policies.  The word “bonus” is there alongside another program not as extensively defined: “award”.

Contractors are free to develop well written and measurable bonus plans that meet the regulatory requirements. Contractors should also reserve the right to award employees for single or periodic exceptional performance (as does the federal government).

Of course awards are subject to audit and question by DCAA, but under the reasonable and prudent standard plus a possible excessive compensation argument.

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Bales Testifies Before House, Industry refers to DCAA as a “Collection Agency”

DCAA Director Bales testified yesterday before the House Armed Services Subcommittee On Oversight and Investigations. Here is a link to her written testimony: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS06/20170406/105777/HHRG-115-AS06-Wstate-BalesA-20170406.pdf

My Highlights:

  1. The Risk Assessment program for incurred cost proposal audits will continue.
  2. Outside CPA firms doing audits of incurred cost proposals are a bad idea because they are not qualified and lack governmental authority.
  3. She opposes proposed legislation requiring GS-14 managers to be CPAs because CPA skills do not translate to government contracting work (Yes, we are going to have fun with that one).
  4. She opposes proposed legislation requiring incurred costs proposal audits to be completed within one year of adequate submission because this would eliminate the efficiency of doing multiyear audits.

What is not clear is if DCAA is actually caught up. In the era of parsing words within the beltway, she states that there still is a backlog and the hiring freeze makes it impossible for them to catch up.

Best line from the industry testimony so far:

David Berteau, Professional Services Council

“As one of our member companies characterized it, DCAA should focus on being an auditing agency, not a collection agency”

 

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