Choosing Topics for Performance Audits
The Office of the Auditor General conducts between 25 and 30 performance audits a year in federal departments and agencies. The Auditor General Act gives the Office considerable discretion to determine what areas of government to examine when doing such audits.
Performance audits are examinations of government activities that are planned, performed, and reported by qualified and independent practitioners, in accordance with professional standards and Office policies. These audits examine government activities against established criteria to see whether they are managed with due regard for economy, efficiency, and environmental impact, and with measures in place to determine their effectiveness.
The Office may decide to audit a single government program or activity (such as pesticide regulation), an area of responsibility that involves several departments or agencies (such as the protection of cultural heritage), or an issue that affects many departments (such as the security of information technology).
Given the vast number of government activities, choosing topics for performance audits is a complex and challenging exercise. It requires good knowledge of government and its component organizations, as well as a high level of professional judgment. Because choosing topics well is essential to producing reports that are useful to Parliament, the Office puts considerable effort into this process.
The Office begins planning its program of audits several years in advance. It conducts a thorough risk analysis and identifies the areas that are most significant and relevant to Parliament. The Office must also take into account such practical issues as the availability of its financial and human resources.
In determining what to audit, the Office focuses on the areas in which federal government organizations face the highest risk. Examples of high-risk areas are those that cost taxpayers significant amounts of money or that could threaten the health and safety of Canadians if something were to go wrong.
The Office pays particular attention to requests for audits from parliamentary committees; however, the ultimate decision about what to audit rests with the Auditor General.
The Auditor General does not audit topics that fall outside the Office’s mandate. Examples are all policy decisions, which are the prerogative of Parliament and government, and any areas under the exclusive jurisdiction of First Nations, provincial, or municipal governments.