34 CFR Appendix A to Subpart B of Part 668, Standards for Audit of Governmental Organizations, Programs, Activities, and Functions (GAO)
(a) The Third general standard for governmental auditing is: In matters relating to the audit work, the audit organization and the individual auditors shall maintain an independent attitude.
(b) This standard places upon the auditor and the audit organization the responsibility for maintaining sufficient independence so that their opinions, conclusions, judgments, and recommendations will be impartial. If the auditor is not sufficiently independent to produce unbiased opinions, conclusions, and judgments, he should state in a prominent place in the audit report his relationship with the organization or officials being audited. 1
1 If the auditor is not fully independent because he or she is an employee of the audited entity, it will be adequate disclosure to so indicate. If the auditor is a practicing certified public accountant, his or her conduct should be governed by the AICPA “Statements on Auditing Procedure.”
(c) The auditor should consider not only whether his or her own attitude and beliefs permit him or her to be independent but also whether there is anything about his or her situation which would lead others to question his or her independence. Both situations deserve consideration since it is important not only that the auditor be, in fact, independent and impartial but also that other persons will consider him or her so.
(d) There are three general classes of impairments that the auditor needs to consider; these are personal, external, and organizational impairments. If one or more of these are of such significance as to affect the auditor's ability to perform his or her work and report its results impartially, he or she should decline to perform the audit or indicate in the report that he or she was not fully independent.
There are some circumstances in which an auditor cannot be impartial because of his or her views or his or her personal situation. These circumstances might include:
1. Relationships of an official, professional, and/or personal nature that might cause the auditor to limit the extent or character of the inquiry, to limit disclosure, or to weaken his or her findings in any way.
2. Preconceived ideas about the objectives or quality of a particular operation or personal likes or dislikes of individuals, groups, or objectives of a particular program.
3. Previous involvement in a decisionmaking or management capacity in the operations of the governmental entity or program being audited.
4. Biases and prejudices, including those induced by political or social convictions, which result from employment in or loyalty to a particular group, entity, or level of government.
5. Actual or potential restrictive influence when the auditor performs preaudit work and subsequently performs a post audit.
6. Financial interest, direct or indirect, in an organization or facility which is benefiting from the audited programs.
External factors can restrict the audit or impinge on the auditor's ability to form independent and objective opinions and conclusions. For example, under the following conditions either the audit itself could be adversely affected or the auditor would not have complete freedom to make an independent judgment. 2
2 Some of these situations may constitute justifiable limitations on the scope of the work. In such cases the limitation should be identified in the auditor's report.
1. Interference or other influence that improperly or imprudently eliminates, restricts, or modifies the scope or character of the audit.
2. Interference with the selection or application of audit procedures of the selection of activities to be examined.
3. Denial of access to such sources of information as books, records, and supporting documents or denial or opportunity to obtain explanations by officials and employees of the governmental organization, program, or activity under audit.
4. Interference in the assignment of personnel to the audit task.
5. Retaliatory restrictions placed on funds or other resources dedicated to the audit operation.
6. Activity to overrule or significantly influence the auditors judgment as to the appropriate content of the audit report.
7. Influences that place the auditor's continued employment in jeopardy for reasons other than competency or the need for audit services.
8. Unreasonable restriction on the time allowed to competently complete an audit assignment.
(a) The auditor's independence can be affected by his or her place within the organizational structure of governments. Auditors employed by Federal, State, or local government units may be subject to policy direction from superiors who are involved either directly or indirectly in the government management process. To achieve maximum independence such auditors and the audit organization itself not only should report to the highest practicable echelon within their government but should be organizationally located outside the line-management function of the entity under audit.
(b) These auditors should also be sufficiently removed from political pressures to ensure that they can conduct their auditing objectively and can report their conclusions completely without fear of censure. Whenever feasible they should be under a system which will place decisions on compensation, training, job tenure, and advancement on a merit basis.
(c) When independent public accountants or other independent professionals are engaged to perform work that includes inquiries into compliance with applicable laws and regulations, efficiency and economy of operations, or achievement of program results, they should be engaged by someone other than the officials responsible for the direction of the effort being audited. This practice removes the pressure that may result if the auditor must criticize the performance of those by whom he or she was engaged. To remove this obstacle to independence, governments should arrange to have auditors engaged by officials not directly involved in operations to be audited.