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Separating the Political and Technical: Accounting Standard-Setting and Purification


  • Accepted by Yves Gendron. I would like to thank Yves Gendron, Steve Salterio and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


The U.S.-based Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) emphasizes that accounting standard-setting is not and should not be regarded as a “political process.” Employing the case of accounting for stock compensation, I examine a recent debate in which FASB appears to have successfully established and maintained a boundary between a technical accounting process and politics. This case is interesting because an earlier, failed effort to expense stock compensation was described as highly politicized. However, the boundary between technical and political processes was maintained in the more recent episode. I find that a focus on due process, characterizations of existing accounting requirements as anomalous and available measurement methods as reliable, and warnings about the dangers of injecting “politics” into standard-setting were important to this boundary work. I also find that the boundary work required considerable interpretive flexibility in selecting (or ignoring) the evidence to be used in justifying the standard-setting project and its conclusions. I conclude by suggesting that a different understanding of what it means to be involved in a “political process” might help all parties understand more fully what is taking place during the accounting standard-setting process. Attention could be turned to developing processes to facilitate debates over which values should guide decisions occurring throughout the standard-setting process. To this end, an enhanced standard-setting process might allow for increased participation in agenda setting, in framing and scoping standard-setting projects, and in providing opportunities for nonexperts to participate.

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