A police officer sees a drunken man closely searching the ground near a lamppost and asks if he can help. The man replies that he is looking for his keys. After a few minutes of looking the officer asks whether the man is certain he dropped his keys near the lamppost. “No,” he says, “I lost the keys somewhere across the street.” “Then why are we looking here?” asks the officer. “The light is much better,” the man responds.
That’s a very old joke, and it’s also a parable for auditors.
Do you audit where the light is better? Where you know the data is reliable? Where procedures are established? Where clear criteria exist? Where you’ve audited before? Do you choose your audit topics sitting at your desk without exploring around the agency?
Gary Blackmer (who needs no introduction in the auditing community. But, for those not ‘in the know,’ he has a long and storied career in public auditing in Oregon and most recently served as the Director of the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division.) speaks to the need for auditors to peer into the darkest, most frustrating corners to identify the most serious problems that agencies and the communities they serve face. He encourages fellow auditors not to be lured and lulled by the prospect of a quick and easy audit. The smoothest path may not yield the biggest reward. After all, it’s been traveled many times before.
There is no doubt that groping around in the dark is difficult and unpleasant, but it often produces the biggest audit impacts. Conducting surprise inspections of adult care homes was emotionally difficult, but resulted in several negligent homes getting shut down. Tabulating deployment of 500 patrol officers for four months was pure drudgery, but it pointed out the mismatch with workload. It required patience and perseverance to interview a dozen agencies to learn why they were accomplishing more, but showed a pathway to success for the collections agency.