Establishing an Internal Audit Function

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Best Practice

The term "internal auditor" is commonly used in a variety of ways in the public sector. For example, some individuals with the title "internal auditor" are actually elected officials who, for all practical purposes, function as independent auditors. Conversely, many individuals in the public sector perform one or more of the duties of an internal auditor, although they may use some other job title. For purposes of this recommended practice, an "internal auditor" will be considered to be any audit professional who works directly for management, at some level, and whose primary responsibility is helping management to fulfill its duties as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Internal auditors can be of great value to state and local governments in a variety of ways. In particular, they commonly assist management in monitoring the design and proper functioning of internal control policies and procedures. In this capacity, internal auditors themselves function as an additional level of control and so help to improve the government’s overall control environment. Internal auditors also can play a valuable role conducting performance audits, as well as special investigations and studies.


GFOA makes the following recommendations regarding the internal audit function:

  • Every government should consider the feasibility of establishing a formal internal audit function because such a function can play an important role in helping management to maintain a comprehensive framework of internal controls. As a rule, a formal internal audit function is particularly valuable for those activities involving a high degree of risk (e.g., complex accounting systems, contracts with outside parties, a rapidly changing environment). If it is not feasible to establish a separate internal audit function, a government is encouraged to consider either 1) assigning internal audit responsibilities to its regular employees or 2) obtaining the services of an accounting firm (other than the independent auditor) for this purpose;
  • The internal audit function should be established formally by charter, enabling resolution, or other appropriate legal means;
  • It is recommended that internal auditors of state and local governments conduct their work in accordance with the professional standards relevant to internal auditing contained in the U.S. General Accounting Office’s publication Government Auditing Standards, including those applicable to the independence of internal auditors;
  • At a minimum, the head of the internal audit function should possess a college degree and appropriate relevant experience. It also is highly desirable that the head of the internal audit function hold some appropriate form of professional certification (e.g., certified internal auditor, certified public accountant, certified information systems auditor); and
  • All reports of internal auditors, as well as the annual internal audit work plan, should be made available to the government’s audit committee or its equivalent.
Accounting, Auditing, and Financial Reporting
Approved by GFOA's Executive Board: 
February 2006