Ethics and Integrity in Auditing:

A Prerequisite for Good Government

GAO-13-506CG: Published: Mar 17, 2013. Publicly Released: Mar 22, 2013.

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This speech was given by the Comptroller General at the Elliot Richardson Lecture before the American Society for Public Administration at the 2013 Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana on March 17, 2013. This speech regards four areas: First, how ethics and integrity form the foundation for auditing. Second, the importance GAO places on ethics and integrity in its own work. Third, GAO's role in speaking out and disclosing hard truths. And fourth, how GAO helps promote ethics and integrity in auditing around the world.

Ethics and integrity are so important to auditing. Sound audit work grounded in integrity and other ethical principles is indispensible to effective government oversight and holding people accountable.

GAO's work brings to light government shortcomings, encourages proper behavior on the part of public officials and contractors, and helps deter questionable conduct. Sound audit work also contributes to better public policy outcomes and improved government performance.

To ensure Congress and agency heads have accurate information on government activities, every year GAO issues hundreds of reports and testimonies. That work is produced under rigorous standards that ensure objectivity and independence. GAO's credibility depends on the perception - and the reality -- that GAO's work has been carried out with integrity and ethical principles.

Importantly, GAO also issues the standards for U.S. government audit work. These generally accepted government auditing standards, known as the "Yellow Book", apply to federal auditing across the entire federal government. Inspectors General and many state and local government organizations must abide by these standards issued by the Comptroller General. In addition, any auditor, private or public, auditing federal funds must also follow these standards. Furthermore, many state and local audit organizations and other entities, both domestically and internationally, comply with these standards in doing their work.

For more than 20 years, GAO has sought to alert elected officials and the American people to the fact that the federal government is on an unsustainable long term fiscal path. On the spending side of the budget, this is driven by demographics and rising health care spending. GAO issued its first report on this subject back in 1992. GAO warned then that, without significant changes, our government's financial problems would eventually erode the American standard of living and reduce our flexibility to address emerging issues.

Among other things, GAO continues to play an important role in developing international auditing and internal control standards, and in helping countries' audit organizations implement these standards. One of the ways GAO does this is by actively participating in the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions, commonly known as INTOSAI.

INTOSAI is an independent professional, nonpolitical organization that brings together the "GAOs of the world." Its members include national audit offices from more than 190 countries. INTOSAI provides an opportunity for these offices to work together and share experiences, whether it is about past successes or future strategies. The idea is to better position national audit institutions to improve government performance, ensure the sound use of public resources, combat corruption, and boost public confidence.