Why does the FASB hide its audio archives?

by Kurt Schulzke on August 26, 2008

When it comes to understanding the rationale of board or committee decisions and holding board members accountable, nothing beats a video or audio recording of the meeting. Meeting minutes, by contrast, are notorious for doing more to obfuscate and obscure than inform.

In an effort to increase transparency and accountability, many regulatory bodies in and outside of the U.S. publish audio or video of their meetings on their websites. And most leave the media out there for an extended period to permit constituents real access.

For example, the Supreme Court of Florida offers a public video archive of its oral arguments. Likewise, the International Accounting Standards Board (“IASB”) permanently archives audio of its meetings. Oddly enough, the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board is an exception to the global transparency norm.

I say “oddly” because in light of the fact that the FASB constantly preaches “transparency” you would think that the FASB would want to model transparent behavior. The reality, at least in terms of FASB meetings, is the quite the opposite. The FASB appears to cherry-pick audio, quickly removing from its website episodes that, for whatever reason, it finds unsuitable for extended public consumption.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve tried to get FASB personnel, from the Webmaster to Chairman Bob Herz — to share the audio archive of the July 16, 2008 FASB meeting. They have steadfastly refused.

The July 16 meeting dealt with the IASB-FASB Joint Revenue Recognition Project about which I am writing a journal article. First, I was told — without explanation — that the FASB “generally” doesn’t archive meeting audio for more than one week. Next, the FASB was “unable to redistribute” audio archives more than a week after a meeting. This claim was obviously false since the FASB’s audio archive page still sports a link to an October 22, 2007 meeting.

Finally, Bob Herz messaged from his handheld that “as a matter of policy,” the FASB doesn’t allow anyone (except, presumably, insiders) to listen to the files more than a week after the meeting. “Now you hear it, now you don’t.” This is strangely closed behavior by the nation’s top accounting standards setter charged with encouraging transparency by everyone else. The e-mail trail is shown below.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the IASB in London posts audio of meetings related to particular projects and allows constituents to download the files for easy listening on MP3 players. For example, one can access audio of Fair Value Measurement meetings here. IASB meetings beat the heck out of Oprah as a time-burner while I’m on the elliptical trainer. They can be entertaining.

More importantly, the audio can be informative, signaling to constituents where, really, a board and its members are headed. The audio is also an invaluable assist in understanding, after the fact, how a standard ended up where it did. There seems to be no good reason not to permanently publish the audio archives.

I’ve previously commented on the IASB’s process. It’s not pretty, but at least the IASB is willing to show its cards and share its audio. It is important for the constituencies of both boards (FASB and IASB) to be able to observe the process that produces accounting standards whether here in the U.S. or there in the U.K. Here’s hoping that the FASB get with the spirit of the times and demonstrate a greater commitment to transparency. Why they have so far chosen to keep to themselves is an open question.

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Aug 7, 2008

Dear [FASB] Webmaster:

I am unable to locate on the website an archive audio file of the July 16, 2008 FASB meeting on the Joint Revenue Recognition Project. Is there a plan to post an archive?
Many thanks!

Aug 11, 2008

Chad [Bonn] —

I am in the process of writing an article on the Joint Revenue Recognition Project. I wondered if you could find out for me whether FASB has any plans to publish (at http://fasb.trz.cc/archive.php) an audio archive of the July 16 FASB meeting at which the Rev Recog project was discussed. I have previously contacted the FASB webmaster but have received no response.
Many thanks,

August 12, 2008

Greetings,

Thank you for contacting the FASB regarding the July 16th Board meeting audio-cast. Chad Bonn referred your question to me for a response.

Audio-casts of weekly Board meetings are generally archived at www.fasb.org for only one week. At this time, we do not plan to re-issue the audio-cast of July 16th. However, the minutes from that meeting are now available on the website.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions,

Chris Klimek, Communications Manager, Financial Accounting Foundation

Aug 19, 2008

Christine —

I am sure that you have a lot going on, but I would appreciate knowing whether I need to contact anyone else at FASB about getting a copy of the July 16th audio cast.

I am doing a study on . . . at the two boards, FASB and IASB. In particular, I have been following the Joint Revenue Recognition Project. IASB has been very open with their materials. I was hoping that FASB would take a similarly open approach. Whatever you might do to help would be most appreciated.
Many thanks,

Aug 19, 2008

Greetings,

The Board meeting audiocasts are archived for one week on the FASB website. Once an audiocast has been removed from the site, we are unable to re-distribute it.

The meeting minutes are all I can provide. My apologies for any inconvenience this has caused.

Christine Klimek

Aug 19, 2008

Christine —

Thanks for your note.

Your message is ambiguous as to whether a copy of the audio file exists or does not exist. Saying that you are “unable to distribute it” suggests that the file exists.

If it exists, I would appreciate knowing with whom at FASB I should speak about getting a copy. If it does not exist, I would appreciate it if you would say so in unambiguous terms.

If the file no longer exists, I would appreciate knowing who sets the policy that requires the destruction of the file.

Many thanks for your help.

Kind regards,

Aug 20, 2008

Dear Mr. Herz:

I am conducting research that . . . at FASB and IASB meetings. I have focused on meetings that deal with the joint FASB-IASB Revenue Recognition Project.

As a part of that research effort, I have been trying to get access to the audio file of the July 16 FASB meeting. Up to this point, my requests have met with what appears to me to be stonewalling by FASB staff who claim that they are “unable” to provide me a copy of the file.

I would appreciate whatever assistance you might offer in getting a
copy.

Many thanks,

Aug 20, 2008

As matter of policy we do not provide access to the audio archive of our public meetings beyond a week following each meeting.

[Bob Herz]

Aug 20, 2008

Thanks for your note. I hope you’ll forgive my confusion. As I look at the FASB audio archive page, a link to the Oct 22, 2007 meeting is still there. That’s almost a year ago. More confusing yet is that Christine Klimek’s response yesterday differs from yours, today. She wrote me:

“Once an audiocast has been removed from the site, we are unable to re-distribute it.” No mention of a policy. Just “we are unable,” as if technology impedes further dissemination.

I take it now, from your message, that the archive exists but that FASB is unwilling to share it.

Providing only one week of air time (and no download capability) makes it awfully difficult for constituents to have a fair shot at “being there” for the process. For an organization that strongly advocates transparency by listed companies, the one-week-and-out approach seems notably lacking in transparency.
Are you quite sure that there is no way that FASB will provide a copy of the archive?

Many thanks again for your message and your assistance.

Kind regards,