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.

Auditors at Work Featured

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.

 

Auditors at Work Featured New Audit Release Noteworthy

The Roots of Performance Auditing in the Northwest

Jewel Lansing

Jewel Lansing

Oregon has many good local auditors who don’t limit the scope of their work to financial matters. They also produce performance audits that trigger improvements in their government’s programs. The genealogy of performance auditing in Oregon traces back to Jewel Lansing, the elected Multnomah County Auditor from 1975 to 1982.

The story I heard from Jewel is that the Multnomah County elected chair, Don Clark, approached her, hoping to get a professional candidate to run for the elected auditor position against the incumbent. Jewel was a CPA, and former teacher, engaged in local issues and civic matters. She agreed to run and defeated her opponent.

Early in that campaign she agreed to pick up a guest speaker at the airport for a CPA training conference. The speaker was Lennis Knighton, a professor at Brigham Young University, who had written a paper defining a type of accountability that is now known as performance auditing. During the drive she decided to adopt it as part of her campaign platform.

This wasn’t the first performance auditing in the nation however. Up in King County, their legislative auditor, Rol Malan, had received support and federal funding to explore performance auditing at the local level. In this case the funding source was the GAO (now the Government Accountability Office, originally the General Accounting Office).

After two terms as Multnomah County Auditor, Jewel ran and was elected Portland City Auditor. There, against considerable resistance from the mayor and several city commissioners, she introduced performance auditing in 1984. I was fortunate to be one of her hires in 1985. Jewel chose not to run again and left office in 1986.

In 1990 Jewel came back through the City offices one day and suggested that I consider running for Multnomah County Auditor. The value of that office had declined because there had been no requirements that a candidate needed to be a professional auditor or accountant. I made the leap and she agreed to be my campaign chair. I was elected and served two terms, then ran for City Auditor and served for two terms and part of a third, following in Jewel’s footsteps.

Jewel had also planted seeds for two other local performance audit functions, in Washington County, and at Metro the regional government. Alan Percell, Jewel’s deputy auditor in Multnomah County, was approached and agreed to start a similar function in Washington County. In 1990 the Metro government was conducting a charter review and several local government auditors at Jewel’s encouragement testified that the regional government needed an independent elected auditor, which was added and approved by the voters.

The impact of Jewel’s efforts and the attention of her audits didn’t stop at the local level. Norma Paulus, a contemporary of Jewel’s and the Oregon Secretary of State from 1977 to 1985, first promoted performance auditing by her division. The next secretary, Barbara Roberts, expanded on the idea and the efforts, as did Phil Keisling, her successor.

After I left City Hall in 2009 Secretary of State Kate Brown asked me to lead her Audits Division. It was an honor and challenge to bring what I had learned in nearly 25 years of auditing to the state level. One of our principal auditors, Shanda Miller, was recently appointed the Lane County Auditor, and I like to think that some of Jewel’s legacy rubbed off during my nearly six years together here with Shanda.

And whenever prospective candidates for local elected offices contacted me, I made sure to send them to Jewel who still remains active, writing histories of Portland and Multnomah County. I know that auditors Suzanne Flynn, LaVonne Griffin-Valade, Steve March, Mary Hull Caballero, and Brian Evans have all met with her to talk about their aspirations.

Oregon’s important government accountability has been strongly influenced by the work and contributions of Jewel Lansing. I ran across an article she wrote in 1977 about her early experience in auditing, which you can see below. The observations are still very current.

All of this important government accountability has become a public expectation in Oregon, and in the Northwest for over 40 years. Much of it resulted from the contributions of Jewel Lansing.

Jewel1

Jewel2

Gary Blackmer Director, Oregon Audits Division

Gary Blackmer
Director, Oregon Audits Division

Auditors at Work Featured Noteworthy

Auditors at Work: Spotlight on Sandy Hilton

Once a quarter we will be discussing the wonders of the world of auditing with (you guessed it) actual auditors! Our Summer Spotlight fell on Sandra Hilton, Performance Audit Manager with the Oregon Audits Division, and in her free time, newly adopted Cat Assistant.

What should we call you?
Call me Sandy.

How long have you been an auditor?
I’ve been an auditor for 26 years. I now work primarily on the performance side, but over the course of my career about half of that time was spent working on financial audits and hotline related work.

What led you to auditing?
I wanted to get my CPA certificate! Two years of relevant experience was required. That was the original reason I applied for the job as a staff auditor; however, once I got into it I found that I really, really liked it. I’ve been here ever since.

Many people, upon hearing the word ‘auditing,’ may assume that the job is just deadly dull. Is auditing boring?
I am never bored. Auditing is exciting! There are so many different things to look at, and it’s important work that you get to take on with a whole team. Teamwork, among other things, makes what we do interesting. Of course, after a few rounds of reading the same audit report, it does have its dull moments…

Why is your job important?
Because we can make a difference. We push things along- changing the course of a program or agency by incremental degrees and effecting some substantial long term changes. Similar to altering the trajectory of a rocket, tiny degree shifts make huge differences down the line. Audits build upon previous audit work and are often interconnected. We help the agencies and people we work with know which ‘tweaks’ can make a meaningful difference to achieving their goals.

Any personal victory stories, or tales of challenges overcome and differences made?
The TANF Audit we released a few years ago issued a number of recommendations that DHS used to  overhaul an underperforming program. In following, the most recent Governor’s Budget added $30 million to redesign and improve the program. Some of that money went to investments in support services and smoothing the transition for families off the ‘welfare cliff.’

Any auditing horror stories?
Not exactly a horror story, but it was definitely amusing. Years ago I did a site visit where I saw a safe with an ‘Open’ sign hanging on it. Apparently the safe was difficult to open, so the agency in question just left it open and put a double-sided ‘open-closed’ sign on the front. The safe was full of blank checks, and even had a signature stamp machine. Combined with the lack of segregation of duties and easy access to the safe, it was definitely a ‘one-stop’ shopping opportunity!

What do you do when you’re not auditing?
My number one hobby is gardening, and I enjoy feeding birds as well. I also adopted a cat recently- well, he adopted me. I’ve outfitted him with a break-away collar and a bell to warn the birds that a cat is around. I really enjoy being outside and seeing the new plant growth. When I’m inside I play the piano, and I am very interested in tracking genealogy.

Cats or dogs, and why?
I always thought I was a dog person. I love the affection. Cats are more independent. My husband had a cat before we were married, so I guess you could say I married the cat, too. I’ve learned to respect cats, and I respect them on their terms. I grew to understand and love our first cat. This new cat has also wiggled his way into my heart.

Any words of advice for new auditors?
That’s a tough one! But here goes… Be open to learning. Don’t be close-minded to ideas. Cultivate an attitude of willingness to hear different perspectives- it will help you realize the richness of what we do. As people we tend to focus a lot on ‘what we like.’ You may get a lot out of hearing stuff from people that you may not agree with. Be willing to learn from anybody, no matter who they are. Also, cut each other some slack. You’ll never know everything.

Final thoughts?
I’m really proud of our work here. I want to leave the world a better place, and here you have the opportunity to have a positive impact. That drives my work. When you get a whole group of smart people passionate about making a difference together, you can make change happen.

Auditors at Work Featured

Auditing critical state information systems: Behind the Scenes

The Legislature just approved our request for two more IT auditors to increase our ability to examine the thousands of IT systems in the state. We now have three teams of IT auditors- a 50% increase over the previous two! We make the best of our limited resources by focusing our skilled professionals on the systems most critical to the finances and operations of state government.

We will soon start recruiting for more IT auditors so if you’re interested watch the Secretary of State website in August when applications open.

OurNeal IT Audit Manager, Neal Weatherspoon, was recently featured in the Summer 2015 newsletter of the Willamette Valley chapter of ISACA, an association of IT audit and security professionals.

Auditors at Work Featured IT Audit