The Evolving Role of Auditing in Helping Meet Dynamic National and International Challenges

GAO-13-224CG: Published: Nov 15, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2012.

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This speech was given by the Comptroller General before Nanjing Audit University in Nanjing, China on November 15, 2012.

The future of government auditing is more important than ever. Looking ahead, supreme audit institutions (SAI) like the China National Audit Office (CNAO) and GAO have unprecedented opportunities to help their governments plan ahead and address issues on a broader scale. GAO's efforts today fall into three main areas: oversight, insight and foresight. GAO's oversight activities determine whether government entities are carrying out their assigned tasks, spending funds for intended purposes, and complying with laws and regulations. Our insight activities determine which programs and policies work and which ones do not work well. These efforts also involve the sharing of best practices and benchmarking information horizontally across government and vertically through different levels of government. Finally, there is our foresight work. GAO's foresight activities identify key trends and emerging challenges before they reach crisis proportions. Our foresight work has looked at the United States' long-term fiscal challenges, our aging population, changing security threats, the demands of the information age, the complexities of globalization, and evolving governance structures.

While looking ahead is a component of what we do, present-day challenges dominate our work. Our responsibilities cover the entire breadth and scope of what the federal government is doing today - from defense spending to health care to financial markets and beyond. We also render decisions when individual bidders on government contracts do not believe federal agencies have followed proper procurement practices. Our reports touch on issues of vital importance to nearly every American citizen.

GAO presents its findings, conclusions, and recommendations in both official reports and testimony before Congress. Each year, we issue hundreds of reports and testimonies. For example, we issued over 650 reports last year and testified 159 times before various congressional committees.

Eliminating waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement is also essential. At the start of each new Congress, every two years GAO issues an update of its High-Risk List. The High-Risk List focuses on areas throughout government susceptible to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement, or in need of broad-based transformation. Sometimes it is a program at a particular department or agency. Other times its government-wide practices that are in need of improvement. Our current High-Risk List presents 30 areas for reform—from the government’s management of oil and gas revenues to controls over Department of Defense business practices and health care spending. Since we started the list 20 years ago, more than a third of the areas have improved enough to be dropped from the list.

Looking ahead, strategic thinking will continue to be central to GAO’s efforts to remain at the forefront of national issues. The strategic plan presents the major themes that will guide GAO’s efforts in the coming five-year period. The strategic plan helps us prioritize our work and allocate resources over a multi-year period.

The Strategic Plan also sets forth our goals. Our first goal is to help address current and emerging challenges to the well-being and financial security of the American people. Our second goal is to respond to changing security threats and the challenges of global interdependence. Our third goal is to help transform the federal government to address national challenges. Our fourth is to maximize the value of GAO by enabling quality, timely service to Congress and by being a leading practices federal agency.