The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has long recommended that state and local governmental entities obtain independent audits of their financial statements, and single audits, if required based on the entity’s use of federal or state grant funds, performed in accordance with the appropriate professional auditing standards. Properly performed audits play a vital role in the public sector by helping to preserve the integrity of the public finance functions, and by maintaining citizens’ confidence in their elected leaders.
GFOA makes the following recommendations regarding the selection of auditing services:
- The scope of the independent audit should encompass not only the fair presentation of the basic financial statements, but also the fair presentation of the financial statements of individual funds and component units. Nevertheless, the selection of the appropriate scope of the independent audit ultimately remains a matter of professional judgment. Accordingly, those responsible for securing independent audits should make their decision concerning the appropriate scope of the audit engagement based upon their particular government’s specific needs and circumstances, consistent with applicable legal requirements.
- Governmental entities should require in their audit contracts that the auditors of their financial statements perform their audits in accordance with the audit standards promulgated in the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Government Auditing Standards. Government Auditing Standards, also known as Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), provide a higher level of assurance with regard to internal control than Generally Accepted Audit Standards (GAAS), which are fully incorporated into GAGAS.
- Governmental entities should enter into multiyear agreements of at least five years in duration when obtaining the services of independent auditors. Such multiyear agreements can take a variety of different forms (e.g., a series of single-year contracts), consistent with applicable legal requirements. Such agreements allow for greater continuity and help to minimize the potential for disruption in connection with the independent audit. Multiyear agreements can also help to reduce audit costs by allowing auditors to recover certain "startup" costs over several years, rather than over a single year.
- Governmental entities should undertake a full-scale competitive process for the selection of independent auditors at the end of the term of each audit contract, consistent with applicable legal requirements. While there is some belief that auditor independence is enhanced by a policy requiring that the independent audit firm be replaced at the end of each multiyear agreement, unfortunately, the frequent lack of competition among audit firms fully qualified to perform public-sector audits could make a policy of mandatory audit firm rotation counterproductive. In such cases, it is recommended that a governmental entity actively seek the participation of all qualified firms, including the current auditors, assuming that the past performance of the current auditors has proven satisfactory. Where audit firm rotation does not result from this process, governments may consider requesting that senior engagement staff, such as engagement partners and senior managers, be rotated to provide a fresh perspective. Except in cases where a multiyear agreement has taken the form of a series of single-year contracts, a contractual provision for the automatic renewal of the audit contract (e.g., an automatic second term for the auditor upon satisfactory performance) is inconsistent with this recommendation.
- Professional standards allow independent auditors to perform certain types of nonaudit services for their audit clients. Any significant nonaudit services should always be approved in advance by a governmental entity’s audit committee. Furthermore, governmental entities should routinely explore the possibility of alternative service providers before making a decision to engage their independent auditors to perform significant nonaudit services.
- The audit procurement process should be structured so that the principal factor in the selection of an independent auditor is the auditor’s ability to perform a quality audit. Price should not be allowed to serve as the sole criterion for the selection of an independent auditor, rather an independent auditor should have a demonstrated commitment to the state and local government audit practice.
Contract Issues for Governmental Audits - The AICPA State and Local Government Expert Panel and GFOA worked together to develop this joint article intended to educate both governments and their auditors about clauses in contracts and engagement letters in the governmental environment that may not meet AICPA professional standards and that may create uncertainty about the auditor’s independence.
- CPA Audit Quality: A Framework for Procuring Audit Services, U.S. Government Accountability Office, August 1987.
- Governmental Accounting, Auditing and Financial Reporting (GAAFR), Stephen J. Gauthier, GFOA, 2012.