International Peer Review of the Performance and Financial Audit Practices of the United States Government Accountability Office

Published: Sep 1, 2017. Publicly Released: Sep 1, 2017.

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Why was the peer review conducted?

Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS) requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to obtain an external peer review at least once every three years.
 
The peer review determines whether GAO’s system of quality control is suitably designed and whether GAO is complying with its quality control system in order to achieve reasonable assurance of conforming to applicable professional standards.
 
Peer reviews of GAO’s financial audits were conducted beginning in 1995. Peer reviews of GAO’s performance audits were also conducted for 2004 and 2007, and combined peer reviews of GAO’s performance audits and financial audits were conducted for 2010 and 2013. This is the third combined peer review of GAO, covering the year 2016.
 
In 2016, GAO employed around 3,000 staff, organized across 14 mission teams. It issued 697 reports in 2016, around 95% of which Congress requested or mandated.
 

Who conducted the peer review?

An international team of auditors from the Supreme Audit Institutions of Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and United Kingdom carried out this peer review.
 

How was the peer review performed?

Between January and September 2017, the peer review team reviewed documents, examined a sample of audit reports, and conducted a case study, focus group meetings, interviews and three on site visits.
 

Report Content:

1. Formal peer review opinion
2. Follow-up of previous suggestions
3. Good practices of GAO
4. Suggestions for GAO to consider.
 

What the peer review found

Formal peer review opinion
 
Based on the work conducted, the peer review team confirms
that, in its opinion, GAO’s system of quality control is suitably
designed and GAO was complying with its quality control
system during the year ended 31. December 2016. The quality
control system was therefore able to provide GAO with
reasonable assurance that it is conforming to the sections of the
2011 GAGAS that apply to GAO’s performance and financial
audit practices.
The opinion is based on:
  • A review of GAO’s quality control framework of policies and procedures;
  • A review of GAO’s internal monitoring procedures;
  • A review of a sample of financial and performance audit reports and related documents from a reasonable crosssection of the GAGAS audits performed by GAO;
  • An in-depth case study of a completed audit;
  • A review of other documents necessary for assessing compliance with standards and internal quality control policies and procedures;
  • Interviews with GAO’s staff to assess their understanding of and compliance with relevant quality control policies and procedures; and
  • A review of GAO’s actions to respond to suggestions made by previous peer reviews.
Follow-up of previous suggestions
 
There were eight open suggestions from the 2010 and 2013
peer reviews. The peer review team found that GAO has taken
adequate action to close six suggestions, and found that GAO
has made progress against the remaining two open
suggestions regarding clarity of reports and external review of
reports.
Good practices of GAO
The peer review team identified five good practices that other
SAIs might benefit from:
  • Tone at the top
  • Learning and development
  • High-Risk List and the five-pointed star rating system for assessing government programs
  • Effective communication through social media
  • Internal stakeholder process.
 
Suggestions for GAO to consider
 
The peer review team identified five suggestions for GAO to
consider:
  • Develop a strategy to maximize the potential of the engagement management system
  • Continue the focus on clarity of reports
  • Place additional focus on clarity of the highlights page
  • Continue exploring opportunities for communicating results
  • Develop a mechanism to further enhance stakeholder collaboration.