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Advocating for Auditing
Advocating for Auditing
ADVOCATING FOR AUDITING: THE ROLE OF THE ALGA ADVOCACY COMMITTEE AND SOME LESSONS LEARNED BY THE DEPARTING COMMITTEE CHAIR
By David Jones
Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of serving as the chair of ALGA’s Advocacy Committee. During the recent ALGA Conference in Kansas City my term as chair expired and I was succeeded by Douglas Jones, the City Auditor of Kansas City, who will do a great job as chair. Before I fade off into the sunset, or perhaps stated more accurately because I live in Seattle, fade into the misty rain, I’d like to explain the role of the Advocacy Committee and offer a few observations about what I learned during my time as chair.
What Does the Advocacy Committee Do and How Does it Perform its Work?
The Advocacy Committee’s mission is to promote independent performance auditing of local governments. It does this in two main ways. First, the committee, on behalf of ALGA, contacts elected officials or the media in a jurisdiction to support actions, based on audit standards, that help create, strengthen, or preserve audit functions. Our communication methods include writing letters, making phone calls, or sending emails. Second, we produce brochures about advocacy topics that are available on the ALGA website that can be useful to ALGA members, other auditors, and non-auditors. For example, we recently completed a brochure intended for non-auditors about the importance of auditor independence, and we’re currently working on updating our Model Legislation and Outsourcing brochures.
When Does the Advocacy Committee Act to Support Performance Auditing?
There are three basic scenarios that prompt the Advocacy Committee to become involved with a jurisdiction:
When some party (e.g., elected officials or a group of citizens) is seeking to establish an audit function.
When some party is trying to strengthen an audit office by increasing its independence or scope of authority.
In the worst-case scenario, when an audit office is under attack and facing diminished independence, staffing, and/or budget.
What the ALGA Advocacy Committee Offers ALGA Members
Among the Advocacy Committee’s most important responsibilities is helping ALGA members. This usually takes the form of either 1) helping audit offices increase their authority and independence or 2) helping them fend off attacks on the audit function.
For example, the committee has produced a series of brochures with information of use to ALGA members that are on the ALGA website on the webpage,
Support for ALGA Members
. On that webpage, you will find a link to the Model Legislation that is kind of an auditor’s “dream” legislation. Auditors can use the
to help persuade governing bodies to improve the authority and independence of the audit function by creating or amending legislation concerning the audit function.
When an audit office is under attack and threatened with a loss of independence, debilitating budget cuts, or, worst of all, threats to its existence, the committee can send letters of support to the officials responsible in a jurisdiction for overseeing the audit function; examples of such letters can be found on this ALGA web page
Letters from ALGA to Your Decision Makers
. Also, there are brochures on the website that could be useful to an ALGA member office faced with threats to the office’s independence or funding. For example, the committee recently created a one-page brochure that explains the importance of
in language understandable to a lay reader. There’s also a brochure explaining why is it wise for a jurisdiction to
fully fund and support an in-house audit function
In all cases in which an audit function may be under attack, the Advocacy Committee draws on auditing standards to guide its actions. Upon learning that an audit function is at risk, we confirm the situation with another source such as an ALGA member in the region, media story, etc. We always discuss the situation with the chief audit executive of the jurisdiction. Through discussion, analysis, and professional judgment, Advocacy Committee members determine whether, in at-risk situations, the jurisdiction is taking a personnel action or an organizational structure action. The Advocacy Committee
interject itself into personnel actions, but it
advocate for independent performance auditing.
In situations when an audit function is being eliminated or reduced, or an auditor is being dismissed, it is particularly important to distinguish between the threat to the audit function and the possible personnel action. When an audit function is being eliminated or reduced, the Advocacy Committee will advocate for retaining the function and establishing enabling legislation that protects the auditor’s independence and clearly defines the duties and responsibilities of all parties involved, regardless of the merits of the case involving the individual auditor. It goes without saying that the earlier the committee is made aware of situations in which an audit function is under threat, the better positioned it will be to help formulate an effective response. We recognize that involving an outside party such as ALGA can potentially aggravate relations with the jurisdiction officials who are responsible for the decisions concerning the audit function; therefore, the Advocacy Committee will always work with the affected chief audit executive to determine when Advocacy’s involvement would be most helpful.
Sometimes we have positive results and sometimes we don’t. Successful outcomes that Advocacy played some role in achieving included helping supporting city charter amendments in Portland, Oregon and Sacramento and Long Beach, California that strengthened the audit function. In other cases, such as with the San Diego School District and most recently with the Glendale, Arizona internal audit office, we were unable to help save the existing audit office as those jurisdictions opted to contract out (outsource) the audit function.
I’ve noticed that small audit offices in jurisdictions with city managers or that work in school districts are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their existence. The City of Lawrence, Kansas offers an all too familiar example of this. When a new City Manager arrived in Lawrence, he proposed that the one-person audit shop not be funded. Thanks to the efforts of then-City Auditor Michael Eglinski, certain city councilmembers, concerned citizens, and the Advocacy Committee—which sent a letter supporting the function—the proposal was defeated. However, the next year the City Manager made the same proposal, aided by the fact that there were several new city councilmembers who had little experience with the audit function. Michael, tired of having to fight for his office’s existence, accepted a job as an auditor with another jurisdiction. After Michael left, the proposal to slash the funding for the audit function was then adopted by the Lawrence City Council, despite ALGA sending another letter of support for the audit function.
I urge audit functions, particularly small ones that have limitations on their independence, to do all they can to promote the function and forge positive relationships with elected officials and any citizen good government groups in their jurisdiction. It also doesn’t hurt to have a positive relationship with the local media outlets who cover your jurisdiction. I’d also recommend looking at ALGA’s Model Legislation and thinking about how you could promote improvements to the legislation governing your audit office that would strengthen your independence.
Finally, it has been my experience that to have a good chance of starting a new audit function, there needs to be somebody in a jurisdiction who wants to make this happen—either an elected official or a good government organization (e.g., League of Women Voters) and/or a recent major fraud or fiscal crisis. For example, San Diego’s fiscal problems in the early 2000s contributed to the city’s decision to create a stronger, more independent audit function.
How to Contact the Advocacy Committee
If you have any questions about the Advocacy Committee’s work, please contact Advocacy Committee Chair
by email or 816-513-3303.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
joined Seattle’s Office of City Auditor in April 1996, and is currently serving as the City Auditor. He was appointed to his first four-year term by the Seattle City Council in December 2009, was reappointed to a second term in September 2013, and was reappointed to a third term in October 2017. Before his initial appointment as City Auditor, he served as the Deputy City Auditor starting in January 1998.
Before coming to Seattle, Mr. Jones worked for two years with the State of Washington’s Office of Financial Management and 11 years with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), including a two-year tour with GAO’s Latin America Office in the Republic of Panama.
Mr. Jones received a bachelor’s degree from Haverford College, and a master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard University. He has served as a member of the Peer Review Committee of the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA) and as chair of ALGA’s Advocacy Committee. Mr. Jones is a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), and a Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM).
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