Kristen Kociolek, CPA, CGMA

Director on the Financial Management and Assurance team of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, D.C.

Kristen Kociolek, CPA, CGMA, is a director on the Financial Management and Assurance team of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, D.C.
Kristen Kociolek, CPA, CGMA, is a director on the Financial Management and Assurance team of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alyssa Schukar/AP Images)

'Have a plan but be flexible ...'

Pursuing different opportunities within one organization: My duties at GAO have changed over the years. I've done a lot of things here, and I think that's what I like the most. When I started at GAO coming from a public accounting firm, I didn't really appreciate the vast array of things that GAO does. I have worked in the standards team — the team that issues the government auditing standards. I've also worked on financial statement audits uniquely performed by GAO, and most recently I started working on performance audits. This is something new for me. It's in the area of financial management issues at the Department of Defense. I feel like I've worked on a lot of different jobs, all while still at GAO. That keeps me interested and challenged. There's never a shortage of new things to learn when you're auditing the government.

Managing big projects: My favorite strategy for successfully managing big projects is to have a plan but be flexible and open to new or different ideas. In any project, my experience is that things rarely go according to plan. It's important to learn to not let that completely throw you off, distract you, or keep you from accomplishing your goals. I'm also a big believer in leveraging everyone's strengths on a team. Build a diverse team that brings a diverse skill set to the team. That will allow you to leverage a variety of great ideas to get you to the best solution.

Maintaining professional skepticism: First, look at your own biases and where you might be inclined to not sufficiently question something. Are you making assumptions that information from certain sources is always reliable, for example? Second, trust your instincts. If something seems off, if there's a red flag, don't be afraid to go after it. And finally, take full advantage of your own quality control processes. They're there to help and provide a stopgap.

Consider government auditing as a career: I think the opportunities that you have to make an impact on your community at the local, state, or federal level through a career in government auditing are really unique. As an auditor in government, you can use your accounting education to identify ways that the government can operate more effectively and efficiently. By having a career in government auditing, you get to actually make recommendations and be part of the improvement. I think that's a unique and valuable way to spend your career. I also find government auditors are dedicated professionals. To me, working with people like that is very inspiring. When I step back and think about what we're doing and the mission, I think it's really motivating and makes it worth it to come to work every day.


Favorite movie: Hallmark Channel Christmas movies

Favorite app: Dunkin'

Favorite item to keep on my desk: Chocolate


— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in Virginia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.

SPONSORED WHITE PAPER

Preparing the statement of cash flows

This instructive white paper outlines common pitfalls in the preparation of the statement of cash flows, resources to minimize these risks, and four critical skills your staff will need as you approach necessary changes to the process.

RESOURCES

Keeping you informed and prepared amid the COVID-19 crisis

We’re gathering the latest news stories along with relevant columns, tips, podcasts, and videos on this page, along with curated items from our archives to help with uncertainty and disruption.