Once a quarter we will be discussing the wonders of the world of auditing with (you guessed it) actual auditors! Our (Nearly) Spring Spotlight fell on Mary Wenger, long time Deputy Director, and now newly minted Interim Director, at the Oregon Audits Division.
How would you summarize your first six weeks on the job?
‘On the go!’ There is so much to do, and so little time. Many items that normally would occur over several months or at different times have tended to occur all during the same short timeframe. I’m trying to take the time in the middle of all this action to ‘take the pulse’ of the office and the people I work with, and listen.
I thrive on being challenged and like to be busy, but I am looking forward to spring where I can catch up and catch my breath. Working with great people makes it much easier, though.
How did you prepare to take on the tall order of being Interim Director?
In a sense, I’ve been preparing for this for several years in my role as a Deputy Director in the Division.
Over the last several years I have worked with and overseen the functions of the financial team and municipal audits. In order to get up to speed on what was happening on the performance and IT teams, I met with each performance and IT auditor individually. This allowed me to get to know the auditors better and to enhance my understanding of how those teams function.
I also met frequently with Gary Blackmer (former Director at OAD) during his final months here. Working with him and with others in the office allowed me to leverage their knowledge and my transition into the new role has gone well so far. Again, I work with great auditors and leadership who all are driven to do good audit work. They are all helping to make this transition as seamless as it can be.
How long have you been an auditor, and what led you to auditing?
I’ve been an auditor since April Fools’ Day, 1986.
The economy in Oregon was in a downturn when I graduated from college in the 80’s so I begrudgingly looked for work out-of-state. I wanted to get my CPA, and had a choice between a job in Seattle and a job in Sacramento in the Auditor General’s office. I chose Sacramento, and worked there for four years before returning to Oregon and joining OAD in 1990.
Originally, I thought I would eventually move on from auditing to accounting. However, I like auditing! I’m curious, I like challenges, and I like to learn. You are continually learning and you work with other lifelong learners. While there is a process and a structure to our work, it’s not repetitive. Each audit is a whole new learning experience. We work together in a great team environment and we solve problems.
Why is your job important?
Going beyond my role, what we do as a Division is work to improve Oregon’s government and programs. We look at how programs function, how they are managed, and how they impact the public. We audit to determine if programs are operating efficiently and effectively and whether adequate controls are in place to achieve program objectives. Making improvements to those programs helps Oregon better serve the public. The state of Oregon spends billions of dollars each year and our annual financial audit provides the state with our professional opinion about the completeness, accuracy and validity of the state’s accounting information.
As for my job, I don’t consider this a “job” job. It’s something more than that. I like coming in to work every day, even when there is a lot happening. We are always working on ways to improve what we do, while at the same time we are proud of the work we have done.
What do you do when you’re not auditing?
I have a busy household! I’m the ringleader of a circus- I have four kids. I try to keep up at home, travel, read, and explore Oregon. As a family, we like to camp and travel and have visited several states. Last year I was fortunate to travel abroad with my two oldest. Amongst our travels we went to Wengen Switzerland where the Wengers are originally from; breathtaking! I’ve recently started birdwatching; it has been interesting to notice things about those little critters that I never stopped to notice before. I really enjoy moments spent outdoors, away from electronic devices, where I can take a peaceful pause and admire the beauty of nature, even on a cloudy or rainy day!
What do you hope to achieve in your time as Director?
I’m always striving to improve what I do and what the division does so I’ll continue that effort. I think it is important to take the time to reflect, reevaluate, and reprioritize so I’ll continue those efforts as well. In my role, it’s important for me to be in tune with people, to function in the here and now, and to encourage everyone to do the best job we can. I want us to keep doing quality work, and to always strive to do even better.
Final thoughts or words of advice?
I would encourage each of us to focus on being the best communicator we can be. I have found over the years that improved communication, both on the receiving and giving ends, would have resulted in better outcomes. Oftentimes the lack of/too much/wrong type/delayed communication doesn’t produce optimum results. Take a moment and really audit your communication style. Communication involves so much more than the written and oral word. It also involves active and patient listening as well as body language. You’ll know what I mean when you raise four teenagers! We all process things differently, some sequentially and some not, so we really need to be aware of our communication style as well as the individual(s) we are communicating with. I’ll be working on my communication skills for many years to come!