In 1921, the Budget and Accountability Act is passed and thus the General Accountability office (GAO) was created. Thus a new agency appeared as a congressional branch devoted to help the Parliament to assess the federal government. Later, the G.A.O evolved and changed its name, and became the General Accountability Office (GAO) as explained in relevant and instructive document, ‘GAO, what’s in a name.” Constantly evolving, and innovating, the GAO has gained reputation, visibility, and integrity’s image, so that to position itself as the major audit branch of the Government and an agency’s that plays a role model for other public agencies
GAO helps the Congress to exert its oversight’s responsibilities, supported by a legislative framework that has strengthen its powers and independence, the nomination of the Comptroller general, head of the Office, for a mandate of 15 years, being made by the President and subject to the consent of the Congress. By its branch, the G.A.O, Congress can oversee in what extent, the funds it grants to federal government has properly been spent, in compliance with the laws and regulations. In fact, the 1921’s Budget and Accountability Act granted devoted powers to the Comptroller general, and his staff, particularly the following:
- to access to all books, ledgers and journal, documents, papers or records sustaining the accounting system and declaration;
- to recommend, usually in writing form, on the economy and efficiency on the public finance management;
- to testimony to Congressional Committee or provide then formal briefings.
Its substantial means, a budget of about $464 million, a staff of 3200 persons including accountants, lawyers, engineers, allow GAO to produce yearly 2700 recommendations whose 83 % are applied.
I. GOING THROUGH A BROADER SCOPE AND COMPREHENSIVE AUDITING
GAO is really an example of office constantly evolving and adjusting to new requirement of its environment. So, in its inception, although it’s mission was essentially devoted to financial audits. Thus GAO, going beyond the tradition vision of financial audit, has progressively enlarged it to a comprehensive audit. This new approach involves, at all level of public sector and of the federal government, not only financial audits, but also performance and prospective audits, evaluations, and more broadly, vital matters of public policy. The audit function, expanding its scope, will involve firstly, financial and compliance audit, then economy, d efficiency, effectiveness and prospective audits…
A. Criteria of G.A. O’s comprehensive audit
1. Compliance audit
Compliance involves complying with laws, regulations and other enacted official directives and instructions. That’s thereabouts, the “old” vision or practice of audit, always ongoing, that seeks to oversee the financial management, the related inputs, and in what extent they are managed in compliance with laws, regulations, and the generally accepted accounting’s standards. Usually, in practice, such audit intended to check account’s entries, books and journal is made to certify that “accounting statements have been prepared in accordance with the rules and principles accounting generally accepted, and represent the true and fair view of the assets, financial situation and the net income….” Such audit should force public managers to deal with requirement of best financial management and deal with necessary and periodic visits and controls of the General Accountability Office (G.A.O).
2. Performance audit
The traditional financial audit, although necessary and vital, somewhere, is limited. It focuses on accounts, financial management and inputs GAO has evolved to go far beyond towards a broader comprehensive vision, including performance audit. In the 1960s, G.A.O was discussing that necessary adjustment, and in 1972s, the agency began an advocacy for appropriate adjustments. So emerge a comprehensive approach around a based-efficiency and effectiveness audit criteria:
- efficiency audit intends to compare inputs and outputs, so that to conclude about the productivity, in sum “doing well” with an amount of resources;
- effectiveness devoted to assess in what extent performance are reached in what concerns the attainment of predetermined objectives.
B. Program evaluation
That’s thereabouts another G.A.O’s purpose and responsibility leading the audit’s agency to take in charge broader examinations, in short and long term, of the government’s projects and programs’ effects. This kind of evaluation asserts itself through Elmer Staat’s mandate under which were defined professional approach and standards.
1. Evaluation’s typology
Evaluation can involve many types of activities that rely on defined and recognized criteria:
- ex-ante facto evaluation assessing, before the implementation of public projects and programs, their effects, as impact, and outcomes, that could be generated, so that timely to be able to adjust, modify or give them up;
- concomitant evaluation, while the program and the project are being implemented, the evaluation’s conclusions being used to improve the actual framework and results;
- ex-post facto evaluation, after the project is closed or terminated, so that to learn about what has been and done, and what could or should been done, in the future.
2. The fact, interrelated criteria brings valuable conclusions for audit and evaluation
In fact, criteria of effectiveness, efficiency, and economy are interrelated; even evaluation generally involves more various criteria, as opportunity, relevance, etc.
Compliance deals with the following questions:
- Are financial statements fair and true, exhaustive including all financial operations and transactions, as acquisitions and expenditures, while complying with laws and regulation?
- Is the reporting of financial transactions complying with professional and recognized accounting standards?
- Are the published accounts true, accurate and stating fairly the organization’s operations and transactions?
Efficiency criteria involve some following questions:
- Is the Government reaching an optimal productivity out of the resources used and spent?
- Is responsibility and tasks clearly distributed and delegated?
- Are employees adequately qualified so that to perform the tasks?
- Is the waste of resources being avoided?
Effectiveness is related to the far reaching objectives, investigated through the following criteria and questions:
- Are the various purposes involved comprehensively in programs compatible?
- Could the provision of additional resources to the program have brought significantly advancement toward the objectives?
- What would happen if the program had not existed?
3. Case’s Examples through GAO investigations
GAO has investigated numerous programs and entities. On this website, at December, 12, 2011, it can be seen published reports on ‘Adult drug Courts”, ‘Managing for results”, “Defense contract”, Mississippi River”, “Transportation Security”, ‘Highway emergency relief” … Among the various cases, it is highlighted the following:
– Irmak’s war audit’s case where GAO discovered many financial wrongdoings and wastes, for instance the loss of 190,000 arms, as assault rifles and pistols, illegal use of funds, overbilled services and supplies;
– Internal Revenue Service audit by which G.A.O found that this agency doesn’t properly take in account the tax return of high-income people;
– Stanford University’s case at which it has been discovered that the Office of Naval Research has been overcharged.
Generally, G.A.O makes appropriate recommendations that are implemented, but beyond he tries to translate what he recommends to others in its management framework, giving some example of best practices, and measuring its own performance. So it has published performance indicators that establish savings, benefiting to the Government, amounting $354 billion in 2003, or a $78 return on each dollar given to the agency and included in its budget.
II. EVALUATION: OBJECTIVITY, INFLUENCE STRATEGY BEHIND, AND POLITICAL CONSTRAINTS
Sometimes, political reasons and self-interest aims can be behind an evaluation. Facing that reality, an Inspector general must find the best way to take in charge that constraint. Literature gives some reasons to do evaluation, according to political or self-interests’ motives…
A. Understanding through the Coroll Weiss’ Model
According to Caroll H. Weiss, there are four political reasons to do evaluations:
- The desire to postpone difficult issues, calling evaluators, while an internal commission could bring appropriate responses; a longer ongoing time is obtained, decisions being delayed; necessary challenges may wait.
- Weiss uses the term “Ducking responsibilities”, a second political reason to do evaluation. In this case, although the agency knows the future conclusions, it is used a third party to do it, the evaluation’s aims being to legitimize a decision.
- A third political reason is to gain improvements at the level of public relations and image. The report concluding positively, it is used as instrument of self-glorification, a promotional tool and disseminate for such purpose.
- Evaluation can be done to get more support of donors, sponsors, and other funding bodies. The aim is to publish a report that highlights the performance, merits and validity of a project or program. So the aim is to convince and get funds to sustain a new project, an ongoing or closed program.
Ultimately, there are necessarily self-interest’s motives behind an evaluation, either to gain support of actors and stakeholders, even donors and funders. Such strategy can involve using evaluation as a promotional tool, and making understood and backed ideas and objectives. But, in fact, evaluations also can be used just to provide useful and disinterested updates that allow to plan, reorganize, decide, monitor, using lessons learned to adjust an ongoing project or program…
B. Dealing with political constraint as Inspector general
International norms, deontology, are the watchdog of an Inspector general. He must refer to them and his own conscious. So international norms of auditors, whether they apply to internal or external audit, commands impartial and unbiased attitudes, an audit activity free of interference. Thus a political evaluation has been made, an Inspector general acting in such environment must, without a priori bias, and referring to the major audit’s principle of professional skepticism consider the ‘political evaluation” as input for the audit work. Then, he must keep objectivity and make appropriate inquiries. The political side can help this auditor to better understand the context’s requirements, mainly at the planning’s phase. In all cases, he must report fairly on the quality assurance and necessary improvement, referring to evaluation criteria as effectiveness, efficiency, and so on.
Indeed, the question can be the degree of independence, the effectiveness of the Inspector general statutes, the country democracy, that are important challenge which determine the Inspector general’s capacity to face political constraints.
GAO is a model of innovative and best organization whose expertise and professionalism are well-known abroad. It has constantly, through the knowledge acquired classical audit, innovated and reinvented. Beyond its audits and evaluations, it strives to be a public management model by its internal planning strategic methods and evaluation. Moreover, the comprehensive audit means a large perspective mixing audit properly so called, and evaluation, as defined above.
Abdou Karim GUEYE
Inspector General of State
Premium Member of Sarbanes-Oxley Association,