Join us as we talk shop with our neighbor to the North and former OAD performance auditor, Larry Stafford.
Per county code, internal audit is an independent appraisal activity for the review of operations within the county. The objective is to assist management in the effective discharge of their duties, and to promote efficiency and economy consistent with the public interest.
Clark County government is comprised of several separately elected officials, including the County Auditor.
The Audit Services Department conducts performance audits, internal control reviews, and provides other services to county management. Performance audits are objective and systematic reviews of program quality and the results achieved. Internal control reviews include analytical reviews, interviews, observations, and tests with the intent of evaluating the security of county assets and the accuracy/reliability of financial reports.
The Clark County Auditor is elected to a four-year term and our current Clark County Auditor is Greg Kimsey. In addition to being the county’s chief financial officer, the auditor also oversees several essential county services: Audits, Auto Licensing, Elections, Marriage Licensing, Financial Services, and Recording. Additionally, the Auditor works with other elected officials, various state agencies, and the state legislature regarding issues that affect these services.
Fort Vancouver (image from Clark County Historical Museum)
Working with an elected auditor is interesting because they can bring a different perspective and things to consider. We do debriefs with the auditor throughout our audits, and at the end of the Scoping, Planning, and Fieldwork phases.
Can you describe your role as Audit Services Manager?
As the Audit Services Manager for Clark County, I serve as the principle auditor and am responsible for the quality of the Audit Services team (2016 Peer review). This includes reviewing audit work and administrative responsibilities such as developing and maintaining policies and procedures, hiring staff, performing the annual quality assessment, and coordinating peer reviews. I also serve as a liaison between County departments and external auditors, like those from the Washington State Auditor’s office.
When I left OAD, Gary Blackmer, who was the director at the time, told me that I would have to “live with my audits” at the county. He was right. At the state, we would audit an agency and leave. But at the county we see the people we audit every day. We still report to a separately elected Auditor and so we are external to those that we audit, yet we are still internal to county government. We have to build relationships while always being aware of our independence.
What got you into performance auditing?
Luck! I spent ten years in the automation/ engineering field. That was mostly robotics-related work including electrical design, project management, and programming. I also spent some time in the financial services industry.
I wasn’t happy with my work-life balance, so I went to graduate school and earned my MBA as a path to a new career. I attended a job fair with a classmate who went to speak with the Oregon Audits Division about financial auditing. At the booth they also told me about this interesting and challenging field called performance auditing. I’ve always been driven to learn new things and this sounded like just the right fit. I was fortunate to get a position with OAD and to work with some very good auditors.
Larry’s take on performance auditing
One of the most important things I learned at OAD was that performance auditing is about understanding the issues and finding solutions – not placing blame. Also, reporting when you find things are happening the right way is just as important as identifying problems. It provides objectivity to your report and delivers the assurance expected from an audit.
For example, the first audit I worked on at OAD examined if state agencies hired former employees as contractors. We found some instances, but all of the required procurement processes were followed and the award decisions were appropriate. Saying that in an audit report certainly didn’t get headlines but it did provide assurance.
Working at OAD was really interesting. I was involved in a lot of issues at different levels, auditing different agencies and topics.
Coordinating with state auditors
The Washington State Auditor’s office is doing some work around accountability. As part of this work, they are reviewing the financial affairs of municipal governments, state and local laws, and contracts to assess risk and evaluate compliance, mostly looking at internal controls. What I help with is making sure there is no duplication of work, and help facilitate communication and work with Clark County staff. I also help provide context and clear up any confusion, similar to an internal auditor.
Internal control failures are common issues identified in our audits. So each fall, we host a half-day seminar on fraud and internal controls for County managers. I’ve found this kind of training is helpful for managers who are often experts in their field but have not been exposed to management tools like the COSO framework or the fraud triangle.
The training doesn’t take a lot of our time, but there is a big pay off. When these fundamental issues are addressed, then our performance audits can focus on higher level issues. The trainings also help to build relationships and credibility, and we get good feedback from managers who attend. They’re very interested in this information and how they can apply it to improve their departments.
How do you choose your audit topics?
We complete a biannual risk assessment and create a schedule of proposed audits. This includes input from elected officials, employees, citizens of Clark County, and our auditors. This proposed schedule is presented to our Audit Oversight Committee, of which the Clark County Auditor is the chair. The committee recommends audit priorities before we finalize our schedule. The County Auditor can approve audit work on issues that emerge between biannual risk assessments.
What are some interesting audits you’ve worked on at Clark County?
An audit I did on economic development was probably the most interesting audit I’ve worked on. Economics has a lot of intertwined theories, so it’s hard to nail down criteria. We wanted tangible criteria because it doesn’t matter what’s happening if you can’t agree on how to measure things. In the end, we also adjusted our conclusions based on the more questionable evidence. This audit received an ALGA Knighton Award as a result of this approach and how we treated the evidence.
“The Clark County Auditor’s Office evaluated an economic development program designed to spur job creation through waiving government fees. The audit found that the fee waiver program cost Clark County approximately $8 million in its first year in forgone revenue and was not cost effective. Objective in its treatment of evidence and sensitive to its policy implications, the audit makes two strong recommendations: 1) either discontinue the program, or 2) implement significant changes to improve the program. The audit won the exemplary award for its scope and methodology, significant impact and for its clear and concise report writing.”
We’re also completing a series of inventory audits that look at high-risk assets, like ammunition and fuel. These material management audits are more interesting than you’d think! We’ve found opportunities to improve operations while decreasing costs, risk, and liability.
“This was an impactful audit that focused on internal controls of high-risk materials utilized by the Sheriff’s Office, taking into account public safety as well as accountability. Findings and conclusions directly tied to objectives. Recommendations when implemented will not only have a cost savings but will increase efficiency and enhance accountability. The report was well organized with effective use of photos and charts.”
What is your favorite part about your job?
When I was a kid, I would research different topics and learn all about them. In doing this work, I have the opportunity to that for a living. It’s also all across a wide spectrum of services — it’s very hard to get bored! My favorite part about this job, though, is getting to work with other auditors. They’re so intelligent and passionate about their work.