Auditing and Accountability
- Jenny de Fine LichtJenny de Fine LichtSchool of Public Administration, University of Gothenburg
Auditing is frequently justified in terms of accountability. By virtue of their strong formal independence, supreme audit institutions (SAIs) are expected to scrutinize public spending and actions, thereby forcing authorities to explain themselves and take actions against malfunctions. In the end, auditing is supposed to contribute to an efficient and well-functioning public sector.
The presumed link between auditing and accountability is, however, not evident. Information generated through auditing is far from pure statements of facts about the operations and results of an actor or organization. Rather, they represent an intricate combination of the presumptions, expectations, and professional boundaries of auditees and auditors alike. Further, this information is not necessarily comprehensible and actionable, and even if it is actually used to pose critical questions or deliver sanctions, improved performance cannot be taken for granted. Concerning the possibilities for the public to use audit results for demanding accountability from their representatives, the picture is even more complex. It is far from obvious that the public actually receives the audit information and, if they do, that they are willing or capable of acting on it.
The last decades’ development of auditing from traditional record checking and verification of compliance to performance auditing has narrowed the boundaries between auditing and evaluation. This has made auditing more relevant for public administration performance and reform, but at the same time has made the process of accountability more complex. In some cases, it has even sparked a return to more traditional compliance-focused auditing.