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

Published: Sep 1, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 1, 2011.

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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent Supreme Audit Institution under the authority of the United States (US) Congress. The role and responsibility of GAO is to provide Congress with independent and objective information on government operations and undertakings. The Comptroller General, whose responsibilities and duties are described in the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, is the head of GAO.

To assist Congress in the audit and oversight function of the Executive Branch, GAO has audit and access authorities through various Acts. GAO is directed to evaluate the results of programs or activities of the US Government (the Government). With its broad mandate, GAO serves Congress on a wide variety of issues and a range of products. GAO's performance and financial audit reports include explicit recommendations on improvements and policy options for programs and agencies. GAO also follows up on how government agencies act upon its recommendations. The professional standards that GAO follows are found in the generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS) of the United States (GAO, 2007). These standards are also the basis of the external peer review.

A key aspect of GAO is its independence from the Executive Branch whengiving Congress assessments of and recommendations for government operations. GAO's enabling legislation allows it to work closely with other auditing organizations and internal auditing functions in government agencies to fulfill its mandate. GAO develops GAGAS with input and comments from an advisory council that is made up of members from the US accountability community. The standards provide a framework for conducting government audits and attestation engagements.

An external peer review offers feedback on the quality of reports and work processes. GAGAS requires that an external peer review be done every three years; the main purpose of this exercise is to make sure that GAO and other audit organizations comply with GAGAS (GAGAS 3.56). Peer reviews also identify good practices that may interest other audit institutions and bring to light areas that may need attention from management. This peer review covers the 2010 calendar year. It is the third international peer review of GAO and the first to examine both financial and performance audits. In previous years, private sector auditing firms conducted the financial audit reviews. 

The Appendix outlines the purpose and sources of the peer review in more detail.