The Graduate School USA’s Pacific and Virgin Islands Training Initiatives hosted “Auditing COVID Spending in the Pacific Islands: Opportunities and Challenges,” professional training held virtually on October 20, 2020. The training was funded through the Office of Insular Affairs’ technical assistance program.
Island accountability professionals, through the Association of Pacific Islands Public Auditors (APIPA), requested training specific to auditing COVID spending. Guam Public Auditor B.J. Cruz, on behalf of APIPA, asked the Graduate School USA for a program tailored to the needs of island auditors now tasked with auditing COVID funds. In his welcoming remarks at the training, Cruz focused on the heightened responsibilities of public auditors in the region – “given the pages and pages of new guidance on how to audit millions – now billions – of these federal funds, having this training now is critical.” Mr. Cruz thanked the Department of the Interior’s OIA, and the Graduate School USA for their responsiveness in offering the training.
The session featured a panel discussion on how governments audit COVID spending, specifically the U.S. federal funding that flows to territories and the freely associated states. About 130 participants attended the virtual session and had the opportunity to receive two hours of continuing professional education (CPE) credits, as required by government auditing standards for auditors to maintain their professional competency.
The insular area government officials participating in this virtual session came from American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Independent Samoa. Representatives from the FSM came from the national government and each of its four states -- Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap.
Four panelists provided insights and processes to audit COVID spending – Susan Murphy of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Beth Schubert from Interior’s Office of the Inspector General, and Dianne Ray and Kerri Hunter of the Colorado State Auditor’s Office. Drummond Kahn of the Graduate School USA facilitated the session.
Ms. Murphy, an Assistant Director in GAO’s Strategic Issues team, spoke about her work overseeing COVID audits and the $335 Billion in federal payments to states, territories, and other jurisdictions. “Treasury is making payments while developing guidance,” she said, “and GAO is reporting on this guidance to recipients.” Ms. Murphy stressed the importance of this work to island auditors, concluding, “audits are required to safeguard these federal funds.”
Ms. Schubert, who serves as Program Coordinator for Interior’s Office of Inspector General’s Insular Areas Capacity Building Program, addressed participants about partnership and coordination. Given the significant and fast flow of federal COVID funds, she said, “as auditors, we now need to consider preventive approaches – understanding where the money is going and how quickly it’s being spent.” She concluded, “Interior’s Inspector General is taking a strategic approach to auditing this spending. Usually, auditors look back at what already happened – now, we need to look forward.”
Colorado State Auditor Dianne Ray and Deputy State Auditor Kerri Hunter presented on their state’s approach as a recipient of federal COVID funding – the same recipient role as the conference participants from U.S.-affiliated island governments. “Auditing stimulus spending is an additional work, added to an already busy audit schedule,” Ray cautioned, “but there is guidance to use, and we are in this together to share approaches with colleagues.” Ms. Hunter is responsible for overseeing the state’s financial audits, and provided details on Colorado’s approach to auditing COVID funds, ranging from testing departments’ internal controls to recognizing the need for more frequent communication. “We’re appreciating the need for flexibility and constant learning as we audit these funds,” Ms. Hunter said, “and recognize that in our new environment, the best-laid plans may likely change.” Ms. Ray and Ms. Hunter encouraged participants to communicate regularly with colleagues.
“OIA knows that focused, timely training is critical for governments to conduct the important oversight that taxpayers demand,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, Doug Domenech. “This training is one example of sharing important information and approaches among colleagues at a time when it’s most needed,” he added. “OIA will continue to work with all of our colleagues who oversee these funds to provide critical support and technical advice,” Domenech concluded.
For more information on APIPA and the Graduate School USA, visit www.pitiviti.org. For more information on funding provided through the Office of Insular Affairs, visit https://www.doi.gov/oia/financial-assistance.