This article is one of a 7-part series on “Technology Auditing Strategies” co-authored by Roberto Calderon and Dr. Paul Eder.

Two Main Tips for Government AuditingAn audit is an official inspection or examination of financial statements, economy and efficiency of resources, and programs and performance evaluation in an organization. Because of necessity of ensuring taxpayer desires for efficiency and effectiveness, conducting audits is especially important in the Federal government. The main purpose of conducting audits, after all, is to have an objective review of programs and usage of assets and data with the intention of A) showing transparency, utility, and validity and/or B) finding areas of improvement. No matter which type of government audit is being conducted, there are two important things to keep in mind:

  • Follow Auditing Standards: When conducting audits in the federal government, auditors shall follow the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS). It is also known as the Yellow Book. GAGAS are produced in the United States by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). While these standards are commonly used in federal government audits, local government performance auditors have also adopted the use of them. Five general standards are included:
    1. Independence: means that auditors must be independent of the business activities they audit. Independence enables objectivity and restriction-free evaluation of activities.
    2. Due Care: refers to the degree of care which is expected from a reasonable person under the circumstances of the audit. It might include performing an investigation of the agency’s current practices and policies.
    3. Continuing Professional Education (CPE): states that auditors must show continuous development in their professional proficiency by completing a certain amount of CPE hours.
    4. Ethics: provides foundation, discipline, and structure that influence the application of GAGAS in government audits. Ethical principles include: the public interest; integrity; objectivity; proper use of government information, resources, and positions; and professional behavior.
    5. Quality Control: is a process which requires maintaining a system that provides assurance that auditors comply with professional standards and applicable legal requirements. Auditors should document compliance of quality control policies and procedures.
  • Use Subject Matter Experts (SMEs): a subject matter expert is an individual who has knowledge power over a particular area or topic. A SME is considered an expert in a particular domain and has education and experience in said target domain, which proves his or her expertise. A SME not only possesses deep knowledge of a topic, but also has the skills and abilities to perform associated tasks and give professional advice. When conducting government audits, the auditing organization shall consult with a SME over the particular area that is being audited in order to inquire proper and related information, establish validity in data collected, demonstrate objectivity and professional judgment, and establish quality control processes.

Following GAGAS and using SMEs in the audit process might seem enough when conducting government audits. However, when SME experts are not officially part of the auditing team or when consultants who have more than one project in their plate also provide audit support as a SME, there are additional challenges that should be considered. The following tips could help SMEs when auditing or supporting an auditing team and having multiple projects on their plate:

  • Always have an entrance conference at the beginning of the process. Explain the audit process, establish roles, and take notes. Quickly learn the specific need.
  • Create a portal rather than using e-mail only for documentation requests. Make sure everybody on the team has access to this portal. Create an organized folder structure to quickly access documentation. Keep documentation in a tracking system.
  • Promote active communication. Set in-person meetings, phone calls, or virtual meetings with internal and external stakeholders. Conduct debriefings for requirements, education on topics, or continuous feedback.
  • Expect massive documentation. Take time to review deliverables and prepare beforehand by reading related information, including government furnished information. Be ready to ask questions and ask for participation of the auditing team (by requesting feedback) in deliverable submission.
  • Everybody must be involved. There might be limited availability from team members due to external circumstances and competing priorities. Ensure that there is at least one resource available to address questions, facilitate requests, and troubleshoot unforeseen issues.
  • Get familiar with federal vocabulary used by the agency. Learn acronyms and ask questions when a term is unfamiliar.
  • Be cautious of agencies’ perceptions. Be prepared for sensitivity and defensiveness as a result of recommendations or findings reported. Be ready to explain.
  • Benchmark. Apply familiar or best practices from similar audits to current audit efforts.
  • Limited resources. Not having enough resources might show in different ways: unavailability of personnel from audited agency, lack of related documentation, or sometimes lack of funding due to external circumstances. Learn to adapt to these circumstances. If possible, brainstorm a list of possible external factors that might affect the process, and prepare beforehand.
  • Time Management. In some cases, consultants and SMEs might be working on multiple projects at the same time, and therefore have limited availability. Moreover, delays within the agency being audited might cause frustration when requesting documents or setting up meetings. Plan ahead, have a defined schedule at the entrance conference, communicate changes, be transparent, set priorities, and work on time management skills.

Auditing is a complicated process with rigorous standards. SMEs, especially those not routinely involved with audits, should not be disheartened by the complexity. Rather, they should understand the importance of administrative and quality controls for ensuring their work is taken seriously. SMEs may have specialized knowledge, but they’re part of a larger auditing team that should have the acumen and knowledge to support them throughout the process.