The Federal Audit Function in the Territories Should Be Strengthened

Gao ID: AFMD-82-23 March 25, 1982

The principal U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands have had long-standing problems in their financial management systems. The Department of the Interior's U.S. Government Comptrollers are presently responsible for auditing all significant aspects of governmental operations and federal programs in these territories. Because of the substantial federal assistance provided to the territories and the difficulty they have improving and maintaining adequate financial management systems, the federal audit function is still needed. GAO reviewed the organization and the functions of the offices of the U.S. Government Comptrollers as part of its continuing efforts to improve the federal internal audit capability.

GAO stated that the Comptrollers are located in a line organization that has management responsibility for the activities being audited and do not report to a high enough level in the Interior. Consequently, their independence has been impaired. Also, the establishment of close relationships between auditors and territorial officials may have affected the Comptrollers' ability to work in an impartial manner. GAO also found that a large portion of the Comptrollers' limited audit staff is devoted to preparing an ill-defined annual report of the fiscal condition of the government, and this is reducing their audit coverage of other territorial programs and operations. GAO concluded that a strengthened federal audit presence alone is not enough to improve the economy and efficiency of the territorial governments. The territories need to assume greater responsibility for establishing and maintaining strong financial management systems to ensure proper control and accountability over federal and local funds, but they cannot do the job alone; they need federal technical assistance. Such assistance, coupled with an improved territorial government internal audit capability, would further enhance federal audit effectiveness.


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Director: John J. Adair Team: General Accounting Office: Accounting and Financial Management Division Phone: (202) 275-9358

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