Magazine article Public Finance

The Fact Finder

Magazine article Public Finance

The Fact Finder

Article excerpt

For anyone observing events unfold on Capitol Hill, these are anxious, febrile times. Whether it's the fall-out from recent US Senate intelligence committee hearings, congressional debates over the administration's healthcare and budget proposals - or simply keeping up with the president's 4am tweets - pundits have come to expect the unexpected.

Headline writers, naturally enough, will focus on the political dogfi ghts, and the highlights from White House press conferences.

But, behind the theatrics, the more prosaic business of Congress goes on.

The day-to-day administration of life on the Hill needs to be audited, risk-assessed and performance managed. For the much-famed system of checks and balances to function, the machine must be in working order. Which is where Th eresa Grafenstine, inspector general of the US House of Representatives, comes in.

Grafenstine has been inspector general since 2009, the fi rst woman ever to hold the post. She is addressing CIPFA's July annual conference - alongside Bernard Jenkin, chair of the public administration and constitutional aff airs committee in the last parliament - on the theme of rebuilding public trust in government. Ahead of the event, she talked to PF about her role.

"I'm non partisan," she emphasises. "I'm appointed by both sides, Republican and Democrat, to look at the institutional aspects of the House, not the political ones. So basically I look at the fi nances, I do a lot of cyber-security work and I audit all the institutional areas."

Appointed by House speaker Paul Ryan and the majority and minority House leaders, Grafenstine works in collaboration with Congress's committee on house administration. Her brief is to improve the performance, integrity and accountability of the legislature's fi nancial, administrative and IT operations.

So how is that playing out in a "post-truth" era of deep mistrust of politicians and offi cials, both in the US and internationally? Can focusing on administrative audit trails really contribute to rebuilding public trust?

Grafenstine acknowledges the scale of the problem. "I think that right now across the globe there's a certain lack of trust in governments. Part of that could be attributed to what people like to call fake news or alternative facts. But, as audit and assurance professionals, we have a unique ability to help instil proper trust in government. Our profession is based on facts - real live ones that can be verifi ed."

Every single sentence in her reports has to be traced back to its sources and independently verifi ed, she stresses. "One of the things we can do is give the public assurance that somebody is scrutinising the government, and that our reports are reliable. So that when we characterise a problem, we've done it in a very thorough and deliberate fashion."

Grafenstine has a long track-record of hunting down the facts. Originally from a Philadelphia blue-collar background - the fi rst in her family to graduate from college - she has spent over 25 years inspecting and auditing government organisations. Inspector generals exist across most US government departments, and Grafenstine started out her career in the defence department's Offi ce of Inspector General, later joining the equivalent body in the House of Representatives. A certifi ed public accountant, she is on the board of their professional association, the AICPA, and is about to become international chair of ISACA, the global association for IT governance professionals.

IT and cyber security are among her biggest challenges, she says. "It's an environment of constant change. Th e House has a massive amount of turnover at young staff er level, so we have to constantly get a new batch of folks up to speed on what their responsibilities are when it comes to maintaining cyber security. We're all under constant attack, and the bad guys only have to be right one time."

Grafenstine is not about to discuss the ins and outs of Washington's hacking controversies. …

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