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What Is the Yellow Book?

Posted on May 20, 2014
Since 1972, GAO has produced and maintained Government Auditing Standards, also known as the Yellow Book. The Yellow Book is the book of standards and guidance for auditors and audit organizations, outlining the characteristics of good audit reports, professional qualifications for auditors, and audit quality guidelines. Many auditors of federal, state, and local government programs use these standards, commonly referred to as generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS),  to produce their reports. How Did the Yellow Book Get Its Nickname? In an interview with Marcia Buchanan, who maintained the Yellow Book for 22 years, we heard that it’s called the Yellow Book because the group that put it together in 1972 thought that it should have a gold cover and be called it the "Golden Rules of Auditing.” The Comptroller General at the time, Elmer Staats, thought that was very presumptuous. And so it became the Yellow Book—getting close to gold, but not completely. How Does the Yellow Book Help Auditors? The Yellow Book standards help auditors hold the organizations they audit accountable.  GAGAS contains requirements relating to ethics, independence, auditors’ professional judgment and competence, quality control, performance of the audit, and reporting. The standards help ensure the information disclosed in an auditor’s report has been objectively acquired and evaluated to be sufficiently useful to its readers. The Yellow Book discusses three types of audits:
  • Performance audits can be used to improve program performance, reduce costs, and help organizations make better decisions.
  • Financial audits provide an independent assessment of whether an organization’s reported financial information is presented fairly in accordance with recognized criteria.
  • Attestation engagements cover a broad range of financial or nonfinancial objectives. The auditor issues an examination, a review, or an agreed-upon procedures report.
Readers know they can rely on the information contained in an audit report that used GAGAS standards and use it to make key decisions. How Do I Get It? The Yellow Book was last revised in 2011. More information and links to the Yellow Book are available on our website. There, you will also find contact information that you can use to get in touch with us if you have any questions about implementing Yellow Book standards in your audits. Once you get your copy, you won’t want to leave it behind! yellowbook_beach Photo used with permission of Daniel Hoang.
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