Internal auditors working in the public sector experience unique challenges. In many countries, they face a revolving door of elected officials looking toward the next election, appointees glancing over their shoulders to ensure the security of their appointments, and the heightened bureaucracy and red tape inherent with any governmental entity.
But perhaps the most daunting part of the job is that many government audit functions are required to make their final reports publicly accessible. The rest of us can only imagine the challenge of issuing a final report with the entire world watching.
Still, good things can come from potentially negative situations. One government audit function, for example, leveraged the reporting requirement by establishing its own website and using it to showcase the results of its work. The site showed internal audit’s positive contributions, providing constituents with concrete evidence of how tax dollars spent on auditing helped everyone. Imagine the opportunity to speak directly to stakeholders, explicitly showing the value auditing provides.
Practitioners may want to consider another upside to the public nature of this process — depending on where you reside, audit reports related to the various communities, municipalities, and governments associated with your area may be available for your perusal. At any time, you can go to the internet and find what is happening in your city, county, state, or other governmental entity.
Where civic participation is an option, internal auditors have two duties to uphold as citizens. The first mirrors that of any citizen — to become engaged in local government and the activities of public officials. But internal auditors also have something most other citizens lack — the professional knowledge and
experience required to understand public sector audit work. We are uniquely equipped to understand how local government uses the audit function, as well as the broader impacts on governance, risk, and assurance.
The challenge is to take the time to explore various local government websites and find those audit reports. Auditors can then determine if it looks like the audit function is examining the important areas, if their findings are important, and whether those responsible are addressing the findings. They can also determine if elected officials are taking the reports, results, and issues seriously.
If government entities fall short, internal auditors should step forward — as both citizens and professional internal auditors — and make their voices heard. Write letters and emails, speak up at open meetings, request a private meeting, and make elected officials understand the importance of internal auditing. If your voice is ignored, reach out to fellow professionals to help elected officials understand who they work for. Because when they work for internal audit professionals, those officials have an increased duty to ensure a strong governance structure — and a strong audit function — is helping everyone succeed.