Academic journal article The Journal of Government Financial Management

The Role of Internal Auditors in Creating an Ethical Culture

Academic journal article The Journal of Government Financial Management

The Role of Internal Auditors in Creating an Ethical Culture

Article excerpt

An April 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that only 33 percent of those surveyed expressed a favorable opinion of the federal government. This was the lowest positive rating in 15 years. State and local governments fared better, but even at this level, 42 percent offered an unfavorable view of their state government, and 31 percent gave an unfavorable opinion of their local government.1

Gallup's annual Governance poll, conducted in September 2011, found that just 5 percent of Americans had solid confidence in the federal legislative branch. Confidence in the executive branch was at 47 percent, and confidence in state governments was at 57 percent. Gallup reported these results showed that since 1997, public trust in the executive and legislative branches had decreased by 15 percentage points or more while public trust in state governments had decreased by 11 points.2

In 2008 and 2009, AGA commissioned surveys of public attitudes toward government accountability and transparency. Both surveys, conducted by research firm Harris Interactive, found that the majority of the public believes governments at all levels have a responsibility to provide the public with understandable financial information, being open and honest about governments' spending practices. However, both surveys found public perceptions of government accountability and transparency to be far from favorable.

In the 2008 survey, only five percent of the survey respondents were satisfied with the government financial management information provided by the federal government, and only five percent said the federal government was meeting their expectations for being \ open and honest about spendA A practices.3 The 2009 sury y showed improvement A in satisfaction levels, with \ \ 14 percent, as compared to * \ five percent, saying they 4 \ were extremely or very î \ satisfied with the information they received from the federal government. In addition, 15 percent of the respondents expressed satisfaction with state governments, and 19 percent were satisfied with local governments. Despite this, dissatisfaction rates remained high with 51 percent of the respondents saying they were not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the federal government, 49 percent expressing dissatisfaction with state governments, and 40 percent with local governments.4

Why does the public distrust government? An in-depth discussion of this is outside the scope of this article, but indignities such as the Bell, California, salary scandal likely encourage such distrust. In this 2010 case, the city's mayor, the city manager, and six other officials were charged with stealing more than $5.5 million from the city's taxpayers. As an Associated Press news story reported, this disgrace, "triggered nationwide outrage and calls for more transparency in government."5

Fortunately, scandals such as this are not typical, but they do occur in government workplaces. In 2007, the Ethics Resource Center (Center) in Arlington, Virginia sent its National Government Ethics Survey to 3,452 local, state, and federal government employees nationwide. The Center received 774 responses and found ethical cultures in government organizations were declining and more government employees were being pressured to commit misconduct. Six out of ten survey respondents said they saw at least one instance of misconduct in their office during the twelve-month period before they completed the survey.6

This is a critical issue because as the Center noted in their report, "The most important asset of government is public trust. When present, citizens believe that elected officials, political appointees, and career public servants are acting in their best interest. When public trust erodes, government effectiveness is hindered."7

AGA offered similar sentiments in the reports on the Harris poll results. "AGA believes that it is difficult to overstate how efficient reporting of government financial information contributes to a healthy democracy. …

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