'Communication is the biggest key ...'
Daunting responsibility: My biggest responsibility is the Department of Defense (DOD) financial statements and annual audits covering trillions of dollars every year. There are over 1,000 auditors at any given time working on the DOD audit. We also hire independent accounting firms like EY, KPMG, and several other firms to audit the military services and some of the defense agencies. We oversee all those individual audits that roll up into the DOD agencywide consolidated financial statement audit.
The importance of a plan: In my view, a strategic audit plan is a holistic or big-picture view of the audit process, including the outcome. While our plan usually encompasses multiple years, we also develop short-term and long-term goals. We must take into consideration our clientele, and for us that is the DOD. Understanding the DOD is my area of focus. Our stakeholders are the Pentagon, the American public, and Congress. We must understand their expectations and develop a mission and a vision that aligns with those expectations.
Communication is key: The best advice I would give is to communicate thoroughly. I spend half my time communicating with stakeholders. The financial audit happens every year, and while we know generally what that entails, there are a lot of nuances, so we must have initial conversations to understand the stakeholders' goals and expectations. You have a big-picture strategy, and you have basic audit steps you must go through, so you have a planning phase where you have a lot of communication. Then you have an internal control phase, so you have more conversations about how your controls are implemented. Then you test your controls and, throughout the testing phase, you continuously communicate until everyone accepts and understands the process. Communication is the biggest key in making sure you have a good plan.
Build in flexibility: Flexibility is another key factor. Your strategic plan doesn't have to be set in stone. Obviously, you want to develop a sound plan that provides a framework for your audit each year. Whether your client is the DOD or the mom-and-pop shop down the street, having a frame of reference can save time, because if you start with a clean slate every year, and something like the COVID-19 pandemic happens, it would be disruptive. But if you have a strategic plan and you can see the factors you can control and the factors you can't control, changing direction is an easier pathway.
Manage your resources: Always consider your available resources when implementing your strategy. If you design a strategic plan for 20 people to implement but you only have access to 10 people, then you are going to be struggling. And if you have 50 people available, you are not going to be efficient.
Favorite movie: The Accountant.
Favorite app: My Starbucks app and Apple Watch/fitness tracker.
Favorite thing to keep on her desk or travel with: Sudoku puzzle book and running shoes.
— As told to Teri Saylor, a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, a JofA senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.