On Thursday, ConAgra said it had missed aggregate tax payments of between $150million and $200 million for periods dating back to 2003. This windfall for the internal revenue service is at least partly the result of the crackdown on company bookkeeping triggered by the accounting scandals of recent years. In particular, section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has forced companies to introduce tough new internal controls, while another part of the law prompted companies to use different accounting firms as tax advisors than they use as auditors.
In many cases this has effectively led not only to re-examination of accounts previously announced, but has also led to a fine-tuning of tax reporting systems. As companies tighten their internal control structures they are not only going to improve financial reporting but will also improve their tax reporting as well, said Roger Siefert, managing director at the accounting and litigation practice of investigative firm Kroll Inc.
The recent spate of tax errors also reveal the hazards associated with the dual accounting system in the United States, under which companies keep two sets of books. There is one main book, that follows Gaap (generally accepted accounting principles) accounting and is widely followed by investors, creditors and regulators. The second book is for income tax authorities and takes into account various allowances and adjustments.
| Corporate America owes Uncle Sam a lot of money |
Section 404 of the Sarb-anes-Oxley Act has forced companies to introduce new internal controls
The recent spate of tax errors reveal the hazards associated with the dual accounting system in the US
A key change in auditing practice this year has been the separation of tax compliance from auditing
A key change in auditing practice this year has been the separation of tax compliance from auditing, allowing deeper probes into the way tax reconciliations have been made. In the past, said Russell Wieman, a Detroit-based tax partner for accountants Grant Thornton, auditors would pay close attention to Gaap accounting but take only a cursory look at tax accounts.
The auditor didnt typically spend a whole lot of time on things like depreciation, he said.