This past summer, Master of Public Service and Administration (MPSA) candidates Jake Bronson ‘23 and Carling Repass ’23 contributed to an audit report that earned an internationally-recognized award.
As part of an internship with the City of College Station’s Internal Audit Office, Bronson and Carling worked on a rigorous investigation of the City’s payroll process. Their work provided foundational elements for a payroll audit report, which the City’s audit shop completed over the span of about five months. That report merited a Distinguished Knighton Award from the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA) in 2021.
City of College Station 2021 Payroll Audit Report
“I was shocked. I knew it was a good report. The data was there to back up what we’d said. But it was always like, if I go into internal auditing as a career, that’s a pipe dream,” said Repass. “Ty emailing us and saying, ‘You’ve already contributed and won this,’ was mind boggling.”
Local governments across the United States and Canada compete for the Knighton Award in one of five categories based on the size of the audit office. Submissions are judged according their impact potential, soundness of research and argumentation, practicability, and delivery. Organizations that submit the best performance audit reports earn either an Exemplary or Distinguished award, with three total winners selected for each category.
ALGA developed the Knighton Award in 1995 to recognize exceptional performance audit reports and incentivize audit shops to continually improve their performance audit programs. The award is named after Dr. Lennis M. Knighton, known in the industry as the father of modern performance auditing. Dr. Knighton also served as College Station City Internal Auditor Ty Elliott’s mentor.
Elliott created and runs the internship program. “My ultimate goal is that they’ll consider this as a career,” Elliott said of his interns. “It’s actually a very cool career. Our goal as auditors is to bring transparency to government and to make government more efficient and effective. It’s really important to be in professions that provide that accountability.”
As students progress through the internship, they complete regular assignments to support the attainment of tailored learning objectives. Students will have worked through the full Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ Fraud-related Internal Controls manual by the time they have completed the internship. Quizzes at the end of each chapter in the manual test their comprehension of the material.
But it’s not all academic. Interns spend the majority of their time on the job, working alongside professional auditors. They contribute to the process from start to finish: completing preliminary planning and research, developing a work plan and executing that plan in the “field work” stage.
Bronson explained his and Repass’ duties over the 10-week internship: “We had the opportunity to participate on the ground level, conducting interviews and doing data analysis, and then writing up the report with Ty.”
Repass’s first exposure to the interviewing process came without the usual background information auditors obtain about the office under investigation. “I must have been there about two hours, and Ty said, ‘Come into this interview with me.’ I went in there knowing nothing about it or any people in the department, and came back, and wrote up this whole work paper about it. … It was humbling, but it made me a lot more comfortable asking questions,” she said.
“We were looking for fraud, waste, and abuse. This is just trying to find and see if there are ways they can increase the efficiency of the process, put controls in place that would mitigate risks associated with the process,” said Bronson.
During the internship, Bronson and Repass held a major stake in auditing the payroll processes of College Station’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “Ty sent us alone into that interview,” said Repass. They were tasked with completing the background research and conducting the full interview. In that process, they learned that the department’s mobile payroll system offered a capability that utilized front-facing cameras of employee devices to verify the identity of the individual clocking in. They probed Parks and Rec to find out whether the department was taking advantage of the full array of capabilities the system offered.
“We asked them, ‘Are y’all using that? And they said, ‘No, we’re not.’ It was my personal recommendation that they do use it. … They were paying for this system, so they might use it to its fullest capabilities,” said Repass.
Bronson and Repass created work papers documenting individual tasks and investigations. Sometimes they performed multiple tasks and wrote the required work papers in one day. Other times, a single investigation stretched out over the course of a week. They might spend hours scrolling through financial records before identifying an error or area of potential misalignment with best practices. In total, the pair authored 36 work papers.
“I keep on hiring Bush School students because they’re just excellent. It’s kind of a tradition,” said Elliott. “They have great analytical skills they are able to bring to bear, critical thinking and verbal and written communication – all brought to bear in the work product.”
Both Repass and Bronson are in the Public Policy Analysis track of the MPSA program. They applied policy analysis skills learned during their first year at the Bush School in the internship. “Knowing what data analysis to use was really helpful. Dr. Lahey’s courses were good to have that background and feel confident and comfortable,” said Bronson. Dr. Joanna Lahey teaches Quantitative Methods at the Bush School. “Being able to jump off and learn more from that foundation was really helpful.”
But the interns’ most impressive skill, according to Elliott, was their ability to independently plan and execute tasks without requiring step-by-step instruction.
“What’s difficult is giving an objective and then saying, ‘how you accomplish that objective is up to you.’ Carling and Jake did an excellent job at that.”
To illustrate, Elliott pulled up a work paper Repass wrote for the audit. Walking through the purpose statement, methodology, and record of execution, and findings described in the document, Elliott’s mouth dropped—even though he had edited the work paper himself. “It’s analytically rich. … I’m getting re-impressed,” he said.
Skills obtained in Bush School classes on program evaluation transfer to auditing, according to Elliott. “Bush School students learn in their program how to look at the operations of an organization, especially a government organization, and figure out ways that it could be done better. That is essentially what government auditors do.”
Since the City’s Internal Audit Office was established in 2007, it has won a total of four Knighton Awards.
The City’s winning audit report is available online.