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The IIA Partners with ALGA & NASACT to Launch a Project to Spread Best Practices

Origioanlly Published June 2007 (later updates included)

Creative auditors have shown they can move performance management and accountability of their governments noticeably forward when they help improve performance measurement and how it is used.  While these government auditors have used the long-established practice of performance auditing, they have also gone well beyond that and engaged in a wide array of newer, less-used practices.  Their newer practices range from, for example, auditing performance information, to issuing performance reports, to advising on new performance-based systems, to engaging citizens about public performance, to advocating for better performance management.  It is with this in mind that The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) has partnered with the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA) and the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasures (NASACT) to launch a project to spread the use of these high-value added auditor practices.

The new project is supported by a three-year grant to The IIA from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and builds on past Sloan-funded research that led to 2004 The IIA Research Foundation book, Auditor Roles in Government Performance Measurement: A Guide to Exemplary Practices at the Local, State, and Provincial Levels (the Guide). The Guide is available for free download here.

“Performance management and measurement has become a red-hot topic among state and local governments and, by extension, their audit functions,” says Al Holzinger, The IIA's chief operating officer. “This is a great time to reassess leading-edge practices and make them widely known to The IIA’s rapidly growing number of government auditor members.”  ALGA and NASACT will help bring these practices to even more auditors, and more organizational partners will be sought as the project proceeds, to help spread the use of these practices, primarily through a project website and training,

A Website to Help Auditors Find Value-Added Practices and Tools They Can Use

Auditors who engage in these practices have helped increase the availability and quality of performance information, and they have also helped managers, elected officials, and citizens make better use of the data to make better decisions, improve performance, and increase accountability.  They have also helped their governments create or improve performance management systems so use of performance information becomes part of a regular cycle of managing for results.  This project website has been established to help auditors find examples of these practices from audit organizations across North America.  Many of these audit offices have also generously provided tools other auditors can download to help implement these practices.  For example, tools include data collection instruments, methodologies for various practices, guidance papers, audit criteria, audit steps, and full audit programs. 

Auditors have also found that their traditional audit practices become more effective after they have helped improved performance measurement. Though it should come as no surprise that when better data are available, the result is better auditing. Performance auditing becomes faster and more cost-effective when auditors can use existing relevant performance data, after testing its reliability as needed, and do much less primary data collection.  When these auditors do additional data collection, it is less to determine the basic performance of a program, and more to do a deeper, high value-added program or policy evaluation, as Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) has done.  Also, better data means performance information can be used to play a stronger role in risk analysis to pick higher-value performance audit targets, a practice of the Austin City Auditor.

The website also provides professional context for these auditor roles, including how they relate to models of government performance and to critical issues such as auditor independence, and case histories of how audit organizations that have used these practices for many years have changed them to keep adding more value as their government’s performance management systems evolve.  The website will be updated as the project proceeds to keep auditors aware of new exemplary practices and tools, relevant news, and new training available.

Training Will Focus on Performance Measurement Roles as a Whole Discipline

Past research findings noted that although performance measurement and related skills are taught in some courses, none currently present it as a coherent field for auditors to address in their organizations. To bridge this gap, the project team has been developing a series of continuing professional education credit courses—four of them are available now—that complement the roles described in the Guide.

At the project launch in 2007, project team leader Paul Epstein said, “By focusing training on practices identified in our research, we'll actually start teaching roles of auditors in performance measurement as a discipline in itself rather than something that's broken up into many different things,” Our team is designing courses that take skills that auditors might find in other places and say, ‘here's how you focus this kind of auditing or management skill on improving your organization's performance management.’” Besides Epstein, the team principals include Richard Tracy, retired Audit Director of Portland, Oregon; Stuart Grifel of the Audit Services Division, Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller's Office; and retired Austin City Auditor Stephen Morgan. The four project principals, who are designing and will deliver the training, all have decades of relevant experience. 

Courses have been offered face-to-face at national, regional, and local events of The IIA and its chapters, ALGA, NASACT, the AGA, and other professional associations in the U.S. and Canada. The project also provides on-site training to state, local, and private audit organizations.  Eventually, project courses will be offered online. “Collaborating with The IIA to make this top-notch performance audit training available to ALGA members is an excellent example of how our organizations are working together to strengthen our profession and enhance accountability in government,” says Jim Williamson, president of ALGA and Assistant City Auditor for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 

Current courses help auditors and audit organizations determine their best opportunities to attempt new practices, assess the quality of performance information and performance reports, test the reliability and relevance of performance data, and audit perfotmance management systems.

Outreach, Advocacy, and Assistance to Advance Government Audit Practices

In addition to providing a website and training, the project has been reaching out to government audit leaders to help them advance their audit practices to include practices related to performance measurement offered in this website.  For example, a special version of a project training program was delivered to the New York State Comptroller's Division of State Government Accountability resulting in the division adding performance management system reviews to their audit plan.  Project training and follow-up assistance to the North Carolina State Auditor's Office is helping them develop an approach to auditing perfotmance management systems.  The project has also formed an Advocacy Committee of state and local Chief Audit Executives and deputies, Chaired by Sam McCall, Tallahassee City Auditor, to help spread these practices more widely.

Value to the Profession

The IIA has long advocated the value of performance measurement in government as a tool to evaluate whether a program has achieved its objectives. The IIA and its partners are striving to help increase government accountability for performance and increase demand by elected officials and citizens for governments to report useful, relevant, and reliable performance information.

“The Institute is committed to providing assistance to government auditors in their role in assessing performance of government programs,” said IIA President Dave Richards at project launch. “Government internal audit activities can add real value for their agencies and the public in general when they help ensure that funds dedicated to specific public projects are used as designed and are accomplishing the desired results.”