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Who audits the performance auditors?

Posted by Gary Emery | Governance and accountability | Apr 04, 2013
There are no smoke and mirrors at the OAG.

Who audits the auditors?In the 12 years I have had the pleasure, and it is a pleasure, of doing performance auditing both in New Zealand and in the UK, there is one question that I am almost always asked. Who audits you?

It is a fair question. As auditors we go around to various public entities  and investigate, evaluate, and judge what they do. We tell Parliament how well the entities are doing. And we give the entities we have audited recommendations on how they could do things better.

By the very nature of our work, we are very judgemental. So who checks that it’s not all smoke and mirrors, and that we don’t just make it all up? How is the work of the Office of the Auditor-General audited? Who audits the auditors?

There are two ways our performance audits are audited. The first is through our internal quality assurance processes. Our credibility as an organisation is critical to the work we do. We must make fair and balanced judgments that are factually correct and based on the evidence we found.

It’s our mantra, our bible, and something that is tattooed onto every good performance auditor’s heart.

Within the OAG, we have various internal quality assurance processes. These include:

  • the members of our leadership team challenging and testing the audit team’s findings and judgements;
  • a colleague from another team checks the facts;
  • management review and sign-off of reports, with ultimate approval to publish by the Auditor-General;
  • our reports must go through our Reports and Communications team, for editing to communicate our findings with clarity, and more fact-checking and verification.

It’s all time-consuming and at times laborious stuff - but is essential in getting the report right.

Before you ever get to see a performance audit published by us, it will have been through around six quality assurance processes.

Our work is also checked at random, every three years, by our Accounting and Auditing Policy team. When this internal audit time comes around, they check that we have followed our own processes and procedures and met the auditing standards that we apply to our work.

We must make fair and balanced judgments that are factually correct and based on the evidence we found.

We also get our friends from across the Tasman to check our work. We have an arrangement with the Australian National Audit Office where we check their audits, and the following year they pop over and check ours. Again, they pick a couple of performance audit reports at random and look for quality, robustness, and impact of our reports.

But wait, there’s more! We have a third audit of our audits.

The OAG has an Audit and Risk Committee that picks a couple of reports a year to be externally reviewed through a "cold read". They get reviewers from New Zealand and Australia (a panel that also reviews reports from Australian state audit offices – each state in Australia has its own Auditor-General) to read our reports and give their verdicts. All of the results of these three types of review are fed back to the Audit and Risk Committee.

Phew! That’s it!

When you put all of this together, you can certainly come back with an affirmative yes. The auditors are audited! There are no smoke and mirrors here. You can rely on the fairness and accuracy of our reports.

A J roberts
A J roberts says:
Apr 07, 2013 08:49 PM
At the end of the day, your there to find a fall guy when it goes all wrong for the Government with one of their departments? Funny that UK and I bet NZ Governments don't employ people with your skills to audit their own MP's?So they will not really want to keep checking up on you just in case you turn on the hand which feeds you?
Gary Emery
Gary Emery says:
Apr 12, 2013 01:52 PM
I'm not sure that we "find the fall guy". We are genuinely trying, through performance audits, to stimulate improvement in public services. We also do, at times, look at how parliament operates - we've looked into MPs expenses and the actions of individual MPs on specific issues. See http://http://oag.govt.nz/reports/parliament - sometimes we bite.
Ivan Dobrovolskiy
Ivan Dobrovolskiy says:
Apr 22, 2013 07:06 PM
Hello from Russia!
Could you please provide more details about six quality assurance processes: what they are and where they comes from?
Also I'm very interested in your relationships with Australian National Audit Office - how are they established?

Beforehand, thanks.
riban@mail.ru
Gary Emery
Gary Emery says:
Apr 24, 2013 10:38 AM
Hi,
Thank you for your questions. When we undertake a performance audit, we first scope the topic, and that scope is signed off by the Office's leadership team. Then a more detailed project plan goes to the same team.
Our initial findings are reviewed by a panel of senior managers and other staff from the Office of the Auditor-General, to check and challenge what we found.
As described in my blog, we then get someone from another performance audit team to check the facts and the evidence behind our reporting in the draft report. The draft report is then checked and challenged through the same review panel that reviewed the initial findings.
The Auditor-General signs off the report, and only then can we move to publication.
As for our relationship with our Australian colleagues - that has developed naturally over time. Our geographical remoteness and proximity to Australia means there is a natural link there. We have worked with them, reviewing each other's performance audit reports, over the last 10 years or so. It seems to work really well. The ANAO were here reviewing two of our performance audit reports last week. We had some good feedback, and they suggested some improvements. So it’s a very helpful process.
If you need any more information, please don't hesitate to email me directly.

Gary
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