by SAD Cherrie Ng
SAD Cherrie from AGO with other Fellows from the 2019 Class of U.S. GAO International Auditor Fellowship Programme
From March to July 2019, a total of 21 officers (including me) from 18 national audit institutions around the world participated in the International Auditor Fellowship Programme hosted by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).
GAO embraces the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions’ motto of “mutual experience benefits all”. The programme which started in 1979, was designed to enhance the capabilities of national audit institutions and promote public accountability. The curriculum was comprehensive and it served as a wonderful exchange within the international public sector audit community. Not only did we get to learn about GAO’s auditing policies, frameworks and approaches, we also attended courses focusing on soft skills development, such as strategic planning, project management, critical thinking and conflict management. The training was conducted in a variety of formats, including classroom discussions, focus group discussions, management dialogues and learning journeys. Views were also openly exchanged between the trainers and the participants, including reflections on the applicability of GAO’s practices to our organisations.
During the programme, I was drawn to the aspirations of GAO and some of the participating fellows. While national audit institutions are commonly thought of as watchdogs, they may play more than just an oversight role. Some of them seek to facilitate insight for its stakeholders by bringing to their attention good practices that could be adopted for greater efficiency and effectiveness, and the possible solutions to significant issues found. Most of the participants acknowledged that that the most challenging task in an audit is not about identifying the deviations or lapses, but understanding the “root cause” and make effective recommendations. This process requires tenacity on the auditors’ part and an unrelenting desire to make things better for the nation. A more ambitious role, such as one adopted by GAO, is to facilitate foresight by identifying emerging challenges and opportunities, and helping policy-makers understand the long term implications of their policies and programs.
One of the key highlights of the programme was our two-day visit to the New York State Comptroller’s Office (OSC). The theme was “Smart Audit” for which OSC shared how it had driven audit innovation and enhanced customer value. Fundamental to its Smart Audit initiative were having a strong foundation for innovation, complemented by a strong human capital comprising staff of diverse backgrounds, and adopting a customer centric perspective. Its deputy comptroller shared that the key factors to building a strong culture of innovation included having leaders with innovative mind-set, goal clarity, dedication of time and resources for creativity, acknowledgement and reward for demonstrated innovation, and investment in relevant technology and tools. Leveraging on subject matter experts and strategic partnerships is also deemed necessary for OSC to keep abreast of latest developments and push the frontier of knowledge and audit innovation. It was a humbling experience to learn of OSC’s audit innovation experiences, such as its use of data analytics for continuous/periodic risk monitoring, geographic information systems, data visualisation techniques and the relevance of open data to its performance audits.
Overall, the IAFP was a well-managed programme where more than 300 GAO officers (about 10% of GAO’s workforce) volunteered to make it possible. We made precious friendships along the way and gained a deeper appreciation of the country’s culture, with visits to places such as Library of Congress, Pentagon, Old Town Alexandria and Tidal Basin. The fellows also organised various internal events such as inter-state travel and visits to eating establishments that could best demonstrate their local culinary experiences. We chatted, debated, joked and laughed and leaned on other for support throughout this journey. More than just fellows, we are companions and friends. Some of us wept when the time came for us to leave each other, and some of us held the hopes that our paths may cross again.
The quote - “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” encapsulates my sentiments of this entire programme. I am very grateful to AGO for giving me this learning opportunity.
Indian cuisine at a restaurant recommended by fellow from SAI India