GAO-03-673G Government Auditing Standards > Index
The concept of accountability for public resources is key in our nation’s governing process and a critical element for a healthy democracy. Legislators, government officials, and the public want to know whether government services are being provided efficiently, effectively, economically, and in compliance with laws and regulations. They also want to know whether government programs are achieving their objectives and desired outcomes, and at what cost. Government managers are accountable to legislative bodies and the public for their activities and related results. Government auditing is a key element in fulfilling the government’s duty to be accountable to the people. Auditing allows those parties and other stakeholders to have confidence in the reported information on the results of programs or operations, as well as in the related systems of internal control. Government auditing standards provide a framework to auditors so that their work can lead to improved government management, decision making, oversight and accountability.
These standards are broad statements of auditors’ responsibilities. They provide an overall framework for ensuring that auditors have the competence, integrity, objectivity, and independence in planning, conducting, and reporting on their work. Auditors will face many situations in which they could best serve the public by doing work exceeding the standards’ minimum requirements. As performance and accountability professionals, we should not strive just to comply with minimum standards, which represent the floor of acceptable behavior, but we need to do the right thing according to the facts and circumstances of each audit situation. I encourage auditors to seek opportunities to do additional work when and where it is appropriate, particularly in connection with testing and reporting on internal control.
This is the fourth revision of the overall standards since they were first issued in 1972. This revision of the standards supersedes the 1994 revision, including amendments 1 through 3. This revision makes changes to these standards in the following 3 areas:
- redefining the types of audits and services covered by the standards, including an expansion of the definition of performance auditing to incorporate prospective analyses and other studies and adding attestation as a separate type of audit,
- providing consistency in the field work and reporting requirements among all types of audits defined under the standards, and
- strengthening the standards and clarifying the language in areas that, by themselves, do not warrant a separate amendment to the standards.
These standards contain requirements for auditor reporting on internal control, but they do not require the auditor to render an opinion on internal control. Nevertheless, I encourage auditors to evaluate those situations where they are reporting on internal control to determine whether providing an opinion on internal control would add value and be cost beneficial based on related risks. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires private sector auditors to attest to and report on the assessment made by management of each publicly traded company on the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting. GAO strongly believes that auditor reporting on internal control is a critical component of monitoring the effectiveness of an organization’s risk management and accountability systems. Auditors can better serve their clients and other financial statement users and better protect the public interest by having a greater role in providing assurances over the effectiveness of internal control in deterring fraudulent financial reporting, protecting assets, and providing an early warning of emerging problems. We believe auditor reporting on internal control is appropriate and necessary for publicly traded companies and major public entities. We also believe that such reporting is appropriate in other cases where management assessment and auditor examination and reporting on the effectiveness of internal control add value and mitigate risk in a cost beneficial manner. In this regard, GAO seeks to lead by example in establishing the appropriate level of auditor reporting on internal control for federal agencies, programs, and entities receiving significant amounts of federal funding. In fact, we already provide opinions on internal control for all our major federal audit clients, including the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. Government.
Because of the breadth of the fourth revision to the overall standards, any new standards are applicable for financial audits and attestation engagements of periods ending on or after January 1, 2004, and for performance audits beginning on or after January 1, 2004. Early application is permissible and encouraged. An electronic version of these standards can be accessed on the Web at www.gao.gov/govaud/ybk01.htm. We have also posted a listing of the major changes from the 1994 Revision to this Web site. Printed copies can be obtained from the U.S. Government Printing Office.
This revision of the standards currently incorporates the field work and the reporting standards issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The Sarbanes-Oxley Act gives the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) the authority to set auditing standards to be used by registered public accounting firms in the preparation and issuance of audit reports for publicly traded companies. As the PCAOB promulgates auditing standards for audits of these entities, GAO will continue to closely monitor the actions of both standard setting bodies and will issue clarifying guidance as necessary on the incorporation of future standards set by either standard setting body.
This revision has gone through an extensive deliberative process including extensive public comments and input from the Comptroller General’s Advisory Council on Government Auditing Standards, which includes 21 experts in financial and performance auditing and reporting drawn from all levels of government, academia, private enterprise, and public accounting. The views of all parties were thoroughly considered in finalizing the standards. I thank those who commented and suggested improvements to the standards. I especially commend the Advisory Council on Government Auditing Standards and the GAO project team for important contributions to this revision.