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Auditors at Work: Spoooky Spotlight on Jamie Ralls

Once a quarter we will be discussing the wonders of the world of auditing with (you guessed it) actual auditors! Our Spooooky Halloween Season (aka, Autumn) Spotlight fell on Jamie Ralls, one of the Principal Auditors with the Oregon Audits Division.

How long have you been an auditor, and what led you to auditing?

I started working here fresh out of college about 15 years ago. I was 22 and interning at Willamette Valley Vineyards, evaluating why sales were down. This included performing site visits, meeting with salespeople, and ultimately preparing a report with findings and recommendations for improvement. It was an interesting internship. About 6 months after I presented my findings to the director and sales team I heard back from them- some of my suggestions had been implemented, which had contributed to a 50% increase in sales.

Around that time, I met a representative from this office at a career fair- I was not very familiar with auditing, but in speaking to that person it sounded a lot like the internship I was working on and sparked my interest. I applied and was hired not long after that.

Many people, upon hearing the word ‘auditing,’ may assume that the job is just deadly dull. What are your thoughts?

I have done performance and financial auditing, dabbled in IT auditing, and work on the fraud team. Particularly with performance auditing, I have felt like my work can and does have a big, visible impact. This job makes big changes that can be felt across the state.

Individually, it’s also a great opportunity to learn about things you never knew you would learn about. I’ve learned about how big trucks get weighed. I was there to see the early stages of JJIS (Juvenile Justice Information System). The job has never been stagnant, never boring. I’ve developed some areas of expertise, but I continue to learn and build upon my knowledge base.

Any auditing horror stories?

I worked with the OSP (Oregon State Police) on a fraud investigation a few years ago. It was a case of embezzlement on the part of a state fair employee. I was invited to go with the OSP to the home of the suspect. I was in a suit, surrounded by police wearing full gear and bullet proof vests, wondering why I was the one knocking on the front door… The husband answered the door. We informed him that a search warrant was being served on his wife. He responded with, “That’s fine. Can you take me to work?”

The house itself was overrun with evidence of the presence of many cats. When I stepped in the door and stepped inside, I wasn’t sure which caught my attention first: the fact that my foot went ‘squish’ on the carpet, or the overpowering smell of… well, cats. The woman was also a hoarder. There were stacks of mail everywhere, in the backseat of the car, in the kitchen cupboards… as though she had just given up on her life and shut down. Ultimately, she was convicted of embezzling a large amount of money. As for me- I went home and took a shower.

Speaking of things spooky and scary… Are you dressing up for Halloween, or hiding out in your PJs?

Dressing up! My husband and our four kids are going to a Halloween party and trick-or-treating. I haven’t decided on a costume yet, but might go as Glinda the Good Witch. My son and one of my daughters are going as soccer zombies- you know, with half a soccer ball glued onto their midsections, some fake blood, soccer uniforms. My youngest daughter is going as some kind of princess- we haven’t decided which princess- and the eldest daughter hasn’t made up her mind yet what she is going to be.

Which would you least prefer to run into, and why: ghosts, zombies, or former auditors?

Definitely former auditors! They know enough to be dangerous, if they work for another agency now. But, they can also be very helpful and informative. They can be good or bad- they know our ways.

If you were a ghost, which state government building would you haunt, and why?

It would have to be DHS. I’ve spent a large portion of my 15 years auditing there, so I could have some fun haunting them a bit!

What else do you do when you’re not auditing?

I have four kids. That requires quite a bit of time right there. All four of them are involved in sports, especially soccer and swimming during the summer. On the weekends we go camping and do a lot of family stuff.

I have also started two nonprofits. One, called Lydia’s Love, throws birthday parties at two local homeless shelters each month. The other, Connor’s Chance, helps homeless kids participate in sports and other activities.

Any final thoughts or words of advice for new auditors? How about new-to-the-afterlife auditors?

Be open to doing audits in different places. You will learn the connections between different databases, and will begin to identify similarities in how different systems function that will help you understand new systems you encounter. The knowledge and experience builds upon itself; don’t hesitate to apply that knowledge to future audits.

As for afterlife auditors- I assume you mean second career auditors! I would tell them to communicate thoroughly to their in charge and audit team their background and experience, as they have a lot of expertise to bring to an audit. We all gain from that contribution.

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After 30 years of public auditing, Gary Blackmer announces retirement

Gary Blackmer OAD Director

Gary Blackmer
OAD Director

Blackmer wraps up a distinguished and respected career as government watchdog SALEM – State auditor Gary Blackmer announced his retirement this morning, effective December 31st. He was appointed Director of… Read More at the SoS Blog.

Source: After 30 years of public auditing, Gary Blackmer announces retirement

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Interested in Audit Work? Come Meet Us this Month

The Audits Division holds its annual “Meet the Agency” event on Oct. 30, an opportunity for potential job candidates to meet the division’s financial, performance and information technology auditors and learn about our work.

capitol mapThe event runs from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 30, in Room 50 on the lower level of the state Capitol, 900 Court St. NE. Attendees will hear from current auditors and interact with them in small group discussions. Email audits.recruiting@state.or.us by Oct. 23rd to RSVP.

The Secretary of State’s Audits Division hires three types of auditors:

Financial auditors

  • Duties: Audit Oregon’s financial statements, evaluate compliance with grant requirements and rules, and determine whether agencies have adequate internal controls in place. Perform investigations and issue other public reports on financial and compliance projects.
  • Qualifications: Typical candidates have an accounting major or a degree that includes upper division accounting courses, plus a year or more of auditing experience. Internships are also available.

Performance auditors

  • Duties: Analyze data, conduct interviews and look for best practices to determine how agencies can improve. Write public reports detailing potential improvements.
  • Qualifications: Candidates typically have a year or more of experience in auditing or program evaluation or analysis. The division accepts a Bachelor’s degree or higher in one of 12 majors, such as business or public administration, social services, economics, public health and journalism.

Information technology auditors

  • Duties: Review and evaluate agency information systems and evaluate control effectiveness. Write public reports on agency performance and potential improvements.
  • Qualifications: Typical candidates have a year or more of professional IT experience. The division accepts degrees, or degrees with upper division course work, in computer science, management information systems, accounting or business administration.

This event is an information session. Please contact the Secretary of State’s Human Resources Division at sos.jobs@state.or.us for current job announcements and information on how to apply.


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How do we find great auditors?

The Oregon Audits Division is holding a ‘Meet the Agency’ event for people interested in a job as a financial or performance auditor.  Come join us Friday, October 30, 2015 from 11:30 – 2:30 at the Oregon State Capitol, Room 50 to speak with our staff and learn what we do. To see the event flier, click here. Watch the Secretary of State jobs page for the chance to apply.

Every fall we initiate our hiring efforts. Auditing is a profession that is often misunderstood, but has many features that, once discovered, can offer a very fulfilling career.

We start by announcing on our website that we will be holding a ‘Meet the Agency’ session, usually late October. Meet the Agency is a chance for us to show off our office, and to speak to potential applicants about what we do, and who we are. We describe our activities in financial, performance, and information technology auditing. We also provide an opportunity for applicants to sit down with our auditors and ask questions. We want them to have a clear understanding of the role, responsibilities, and satisfactions of becoming an auditor.

mtaOur application is posted on the Secretary of State’s website and is conducted online. We ask for education and employment history and usually ask a couple questions to get a more detailed sense of the applicant. We require applicants to submit their college transcripts as well.

Applicants who meet the minimum qualifications get their written application reviewed for a possible interview. We schedule an interview with the top-ranked applicants then make a decision on hiring.

From the close of the announcements to a hiring decision is generally about 6 to 8 weeks. New hires must also successfully pass a criminal background check.

We consider our hiring decisions the most important ones we make. New hires should also know that we conduct several evaluations during their trial service period to give them feedback on their learning and progress to be an auditor. We take this period very seriously because we sometimes have to make the difficult decision to dismiss those who struggle with the work.

We look for certain characteristics of success in all our applicants, and special kinds of skills and expertise for our financial, performance, and information technology auditors. All our auditors need good interpersonal skills because so much of our work depends upon engaging and interviewing agency personnel. We look for candidates with a nature to ask questions and get answers. We must also be quick to learn the wide range of the activities performed by more than 40,000 other state employees 150 agencies, boards, commissions, and departments. Lastly, our auditors need to communicate what they find, so clear and concise writing is a fundamental skill.

Fin wallFor our financial auditors we require a strong accounting background, of course. But auditing is different than accounting and we either hire or develop a ‘reviewer’ perspective in these auditors. We expect them to apply their judgment in determining whether agencies have carried out their financial work properly.

IT wallOur information technology auditors should have a good grounding in computer systems and some accounting skills can be a bonus, since we are often testing the reliability of financial data in major state applications. We are also looking for applicants with an interest in learning about computer systems and checking them for security vulnerabilities.

We want our performance auditors to be comfortable with numbers, and also have an ability to see the ‘big picture’ and connect it to the critical details. Applicants should bring an understanding of organizations and management principles which can reveal the sources of many of our audit findings.

We have high expectations of our auditor applicants but that also brings them a deep satisfaction when they earn a place in the Secretary of State’s office. Once here, they find a rich variety of experiences that offer long-term personal growth, teamwork with peers and managers that break big challenges down into answers and solutions. That means a fulfilling career serving Oregonians by improving government and holding it accountable.

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OAD is on LinkedIn!

With all the social media platforms available, it can sometimes to challenging to figure out which one to use, and when to use it.

LinkedIn is a social networking site aimed at professionals. At its most basic level, LinkedIn allows individuals and organizations to create profile pages and connect or follow each other. LinkedIn connections often represent real-world professional relationships. Organizations can post employment opportunities, job-seekers can build easily accessible profiles, and recruiters can search for promising candidates.

Unlike other social media sites, this is not the platform to tell the world what you ate for dinner or share a photo of your adorable puppy. LinkedIn IS the platform to maintain a living resume (your profile), tell the world that your organization is hiring, and endorse your co-worker for being an amazing presenter.

In addition to the OAD blog, we’ve also recently established our company page on LinkedIn. It is another tool to share news of our audit releases and to connect with those in the auditing community around the world. It also provides another venue for recruiting talented auditors for open positions in our office.

We hope you will consider connecting with us by following our company page on LinkedIn. Keep your eyes open for position announcements now and in the future. (In fact, we currently have an opening for an IT Staff Auditor!)

Oregon Secretary of State Audits Division LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/oregon-secretary-of-state-audits-division

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Audits in the News: Sept. 14

We here in the audits division are proud that the work we do makes a difference. Our work attracts the attention of the legislature, statewide news sources, and even local media outlets. Local media coverage of our audits is just another way we communicate with the people of Oregon about the work that we’re doing on their behalf to make government better. This is part of an ongoing series of posts rounding up recent instances in which the Oregon Audits Division makes a cameo in the local news.

The Oregon Audits Division recently released its audit of the Oregon State Hospital, which found that management has taken significant action to improve safety and patient care, both for the patients and staff. However, more action is still needed to continue improvements and promote patient recovery. You can read the full audit here.

The hard work of the audit team did not go unnoticed, with several media outlets picking up the story.

KTVZ – Ore. State Hospital audit: Much progress, much more to do

Read the story here.

“The Oregon State Hospital has made progress during a decade of change, but more can be done to improve mental health treatment, staff safety and fatigue, and the electronic records system, according to an audit released Wednesday by the secretary of state’s office.

KLCC  Audit Finds More Can Be Done To Improve State Hospital

Read the story here.

“The Oregon State Psychiatric Hospital has made progress during a decade of change. But more can be done to improve mental health treatment and staff safety. That’s according to a recent audit by the Secretary of State’s office.”

Older audits are continuing to receive media attention, too. Our audit of the Oregon Lottery found that a lack of clarity in the law about what constitutes a “casino” is allowing several retailers to operate as such, receiving most of their income from video gambling machines.

Portland Tribune  Our Opinion: State needs to enforce own lottery laws

Read the story here.

“State lawmakers must look for ways to eliminate some of the dens of addiction that the current Oregon Lottery supports. If necessary, lawmakers should consider adding to state statute further limitations on the number of lottery terminals allowed in certain retail locations … A secretary of state audit released last week concluded that the Oregon Lottery might be allowing lottery cafes to operate as casinos, even though the Oregon Constitution bans casinos on nontribal lands.

Additionally, the Audits Division looked into the Oregon Department of Energy’s tax credit programs in response to a hotline call. Read our letter to the agency here.

Albany Democrat-Herald  Editorial: Tax-credit mess has lessons for governor

Read the story here.

“Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to take a hard look at how the Oregon Department of Energy is managing the state’s energy tax credit program is welcome, but overdue, considering the program’s troubled history. The results of the review will be fascinating — and the governor needs to emphasize transparency at every step in the process.

Brown’s call came in the wake of an audit from the Secretary of State’s office that concluded, among other findings, that the Energy Department appeared to be violating its own administrative rules (and the Legislature’s intent) by allowing recipients of energy tax credits to sell them to third parties at steep discounts.”

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Auditing How To: Document Sample Selections in ACL

Hello again, fellow data wonks and wonk wannabes!

Last time, we discussed random sampling in Excel and what factors you should consider when determining your sample size. (Hint: 30 is generally large enough, but not in all cases)
One of the downfalls of Excel is the lack of an audit trail. In these examples, we will provide a high-tech and low-tech way to document your sample selection process in detail. First up, ACL.

The High-Tech Method

I am working with fictional data below. As you can see, our population contains 36 counties. Make note of your population size when working in ACL as this will be important later on. You can count a table by using the shortcut “CRTL + 3”.
ACL sampling pic 1

Next you select the “Sampling” menu and click on “Sample Records”. This also has a shortcut, which is “CTRL + 9”.

ACL sampling pic 2

Change “Sample Type” from “MUS” to “Record”. Then click on “random” on the middle left of the interface. Enter in the “size” of the sample. I pulled a sample of 10. The “Seed” allows you to document and repeat a random sample. Any number will do – just pick the first one that comes to mind.

I know what you’re thinking. However, just because something is repeatable does not change the fact that it is random.

Enter in the “population” we recorded earlier, then define the table name you want the sample sent to.

ACL sampling pic 3

There you have it; a random sample of 10 counties in Oregon, with a full log file and repeatable methodology in case you ever get questioned about how you pulled your sample.

The Low-Tech Method

If you are still hung up on what a seed has to do with random sampling, the low tech way will make it clear to you. Below we have a copy of a random number table. You can find these in the appendix of most statistics textbooks or via Google.

ACL sampling pic 5

The “seed” tells you where to start on the table. If I have a seed of 1, we would start at the 1st number, which also happens to be a 1. A seed of “3” start at the 3rd number in which in this case is 4. This is what makes it repeatable. Our population was 36, so to pull a sample we will be looking at sequences of 2-digit numbers. I will use a seed of “3” and pull just three samples.

In the random number table to the right, I’ve crossed out the first two numbers since our seed was “3”. ACL sampling pic 6Starting with the 3rd number, I looked at each 2 digit sequence. If the number fell between 01 and 36, it was a valid random sample and highlighted in green. If the number was above 36, I moved to the next sequence. Also, if repeats are not allowed in your sample you would move to the next number as well (e.g. 11 would be my next sample, but it was already pulled so I would skip over the repeat). Keep moving right and down until you have pulled the full sample.

In this case, my sample was 01, 11, and 20 or Baker, Gilliam, and Lane (shown below). Functionally, this manual low-tech process is identical to what ACL does.

ACL sampling pic 7

You can apply the Random Number table approach to extremely large files. If you had 1,000,000 records you would look at 7-digit sequences rather than 2-digit shown above.

And there we have it! Two useful methods for documenting sample selection.

If you are stuck on a project in ACL, Excel, or ArcGIS please submit your topic suggestions for a future blog post.

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