Category Archives for "Local Governments"

Yellow Book CPE
Jul 06

2018 Yellow Book CPE Requirements – A Summary

By Charles Hall | Auditing , Local Governments

What are the 2018 Yellow Book CPE requirements?

You’ve heard about the new Yellow Book (effective for audits of years ending June 30, 2020, and after). So, now you’re wondering if there are any changes in CPE requirements. This article explains the Yellow Book continuing education requirements. 

Below we will address (1) who is subject to the Yellow Book CPE requirements and (2) what CPE classes satisfy those requirements.

Yellow Book CPE

Overview

Paragraph 4.16 of the Yellow Book states “Auditors who plan, direct, perform engagement procedures for, or report on an engagement conducted in accordance with GAGAS should develop and maintain their professional competence by completing at least 80 hours of CPE in every 2-year period.”

Nevertheless, Paragraph 4.26 states “nonsupervisory auditors who charge less than 40 hours of their time annually to engagements conducted in accordance with GAGAS may be exempted by the organization from all CPE requirements in paragraph 4.16.” Additionally, paragraph 4.27 allows an audit organization to exempt “college and university students employed on a temporary basis.”

Auditors not exempted by the provisions in paragraphs 4.26 or 4.27 must take at least 20 hours of CPE in each year of the two years. 

So, there is an 80 requirement. Additionally, there are two more requirements:

  1. 56-hour (every two years)
  2. 24-hour (every two years)

Below we’ll see:

  1. Who is subject to each requirement?
  2. What classes qualify for each requirement?

Before we get into the details, you may be wondering, “How do I know if I am subject to the Yellow Book CPE requirements?” To answer that question, consider whether a Yellow Book report is to be issued (or whether one was issued in a prior engagement). If yes, then consider the requirements below. In most audit reports, you’ll see the Yellow Book report just after the notes to the financial statements. And when must an entity comply with the Yellow Book requirements? Usually when a law or a grant requires it. 

Now, let’s start our review of Yellow Book CPE requirements.

The 24-Hour Requirement – Who is Subject?

Who is subject to the 24-hour requirement? If you work on a Yellow Book engagement as an auditor, you are subject to the 24-hour requirement. Even so, if you are a nonsupervisory auditor that works less than forty hours annually on Yellow Book engagements, your audit organization can exempt you from Yellow Book requirements. (See paragraph 4.26 of the Yellow Book.) Additionally, audit organizations can exempt college students hired temporarily. (See paragraph 4.27 of the Yellow Book.)

Next, let’s see who is subject to the 56-hour requirement?

The 56-Hour Requirement – Who is Subject?

Who is subject to the 56-hour requirement? Auditors who are involved in:

1. Planning,
2. Directing, or
3. Reporting 

These are usually partners, managers, and in-charges. 

Additionally, the 56-hour requirement applies to auditors who are not involved in planning, directing, or reporting but charge 20 percent or more of their annual time to GAGAS engagements. This category usually includes professional staff personnel. 

So, consider this example. You have a staff member that has:

  • 2,000 hours of total time each year
  • 140 hours in two GAGAS (Yellow Book) engagements for the year
  • He is not involved in planning, directing, or reporting

He is not subject to the 56-hour requirement (his GAGAS time is less than 20% of the total hours), though he is subject to the 24-hour requirement.

But suppose he is promoted during the year and becomes a manager on the second Yellow Book engagement. Even though his time is less than 20% of his annual time, he is now subject to the 56-hour requirement. Why? He is directing the engagement. 

Now, let’s see what classes qualify for Yellow Book CPE. 

What Classes Qualify for Yellow Book CPE?

Paragraph 4.21 of the Yellow Book states, “Determining what subjects are appropriate for individual auditors to satisfy the CPE requirements is a matter of professional judgment to be exercised by auditors in consultation with appropriate officials in their audit organization.” Moreover, there are differences in the 56-hour requirement and the 24-hour requirement. Otherwise, only one category would exist. The 56-hour requirement is broader and the 24-hour requirement is more specific. 

Yellow Book CPE

Okay, let’s define the differences in the 56-hour and 24-hour requirements. 

The 56-Hour Rule – Classes that Qualify

The 56-hour rule is broad, encompassing any CPE that enhances the auditor’s professional expertise to conduct engagements.  So, CPE classes about better writing, for example, would qualify. 

Paragraph 4.24 of the Yellow Book provides the following as examples of acceptable topics:

  • Subject matter categories for the 24-hour requirement listed in paragraph 4.23 (the 24-hour requirement–see below)
  • General ethics and independence
  • Communicating clearly in writing or verbally
  • Managing time
  • Leadership
  • Political science

Now, let’s compare the general 56-hour requirements with the more specific 24-hour requirements. 

The 24-Hour Rule – Classes that Qualify

Each auditor performing work under GAGAS should complete, every two years, at least twenty-four hours of CPE that directly relates to government auditing, the government environment, or the specific or unique environment in which the audited entity operates.

Paragraph 4.23 of the Yellow Book provides the following as examples of acceptable topics:

  • GAO generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS)
  • AICPA Statements of Auditing Standards (SASs)
  • AICPA Statements on Standards for Attestation Services (SSAEs)
  • AICPA Statements on Accounting and Review Services (SSARS)
  • Standards issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors
  • Standards issued by the Public Company Accounting and Oversight Board
  • U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (FASB and GASB)
  • Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government
  • COSO Internal Controls–Integrated Framework
  • Relevant audit guides (including information technology auditing and forensic auditing)
  • Fraud and abuse in a governmental environment
  • Compliance with laws and regulations
  • Topics related to the governmental environment such as financing, economics, appropriations, program performance
  • Governmental ethics and independence

Notice these topics are more directly related to auditees than those in the 56-hour requirement. But again, use judgment to determine whether a CPE class is in the 24-hour or the 56-hour bucket. 

Since the GAO, a governmental agency, issues the Yellow Book, we tend to associate Yellow Book engagements with audits of governments. But the Yellow Book can be in play for entities such as banks or electric membership corporations. 

Specific or Unique Environment in Which the Audited Entity Operates

Suppose you audit electric membership corporations (EMCs) subject to the Yellow Book. A CPE class about electric supply grids qualifies for the 24-hour requirement. Or if you audit banks subject to Yellow Book requirements (e.g., FHA loans), then a CPE class dealing with lending qualifies. These classes address issues unique to the environment in which the entity operates.

So, are there CPE classes that don’t qualify as GAGAS hours?

CPE that Does Not Qualify as Yellow Book Hours

Some CPE classes will not qualify as GAGAS hours. Paragraph 4.36 of the Yellow Book provides the following examples:

  • On-the-job training
  • Resume writing
  • Improving parent-child relations
  • Personal investments
  • Money management
  • Retirement planning

Additionally, paragraph 4.35 states that some taxation classes may not qualify such as estate planning. It is possible that a tax class would qualify if “topics relate to an objective of the subject matter of an engagement.”

Your head might be spinning from all of the above rules. So, you might be wondering, can my audit organization use a standard two-year cycle for all employees? You’d like to keep this as simple as possible. 

Two-Year Cycle

An audit organization can adopt a standard two-year period for all of its auditors to simplify the administration of CPE requirements.

But can you carry over excess CPE credit earned in the two-year period?

Carryover Credit

Auditors are not allowed to carry over hours in excess of the 24-hour or 56-hour rule to the next reporting period.

And what are the Yellow Book CPE requirements for a new employee?

Proration of Hours for New-Hires (or Those Newly Assigned to a Yellow Book Audit)

You will prorate the hourly requirements based on the remaining full 6-month intervals in your two-year reporting period. For example, you hire Joan on May 1, 2021, and the firm’s two-year cycle ends on December 31, 2021. There is one remaining full 6-month period. So, if Joan is subject to the 24-hour rule, she will multiply 25% (one six-month period divided by the four six-month periods in the two-year cycle) times 24 to compute the required hours: 6 hours.

And when is the 2018 Yellow Book effective?

Effective Date of Yellow Book Guidance

The 2018 Yellow Book is effective for audits of financial statements for periods ending on or after June 30, 2020. Early implementation is not permitted.

But, didn’t the GAO provide COVID-19 relief? Yes. 

COVID-19 GAO Guidance

The above information is provided without consideration of the COVID-19 guidance issued on February 29, 2020. See the GAO COVID-19 guidance here

Single Audit Applicability
Jun 07

Single Audit Applicability and Objectives

By Charles Hall | Auditing , Local Governments

Your organization received federal funds but you're not sure about Single Audit applicability. Should you engage an audit firm to perform a Single Audit or not? 

In this article, I'll help you determine whether a Single Audit is needed. I'll also explain the objectives of such an audit. Why? So you can understand what auditors are looking for.

Single Audit Applicability

Single Audit: What is it?

Many nonprofits and governments receive federal funds from the United States government. And some of those entities are required to have a Single Audit.

But what is a Single Audit? It's just what it says: a single audit. Of what? A single audit of all federal awards received by a nonprofit or a government. 

For example, a county government might receive disaster funds from FEMA and a block grant from HUD. But rather than contracting for two separate audits, a Single Audit of both programs is performed. This audit requirement is usually triggered when total federal awards exceed $750,000 in one year.

The Uniform Guidance

So what guidance does the auditor and the nonfederal organization (government or nonprofit) follow? The Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awardscommonly referred to as the Uniform Guidance.

Subpart F, Audit Requirements, provides guidance for auditors.

Next, let's dig a little deeper regarding Single Audit applicability.

Single Audit Applicability

When is a Single Audit required? The Uniform Guidance states: A non-Federal entity that expends $750,000 or more during the non-Federal entity's fiscal year in Federal awards must have a single audit. (There is an exception. That's when the entity elects to have a program specific audit.)

But what does expend mean? Typically the word means that an entity spends money. But the word expend has a broader meaning in Single Audits. For example, the word includes:

  • receipt of federal property or goods (e.g., surplus property or commodities)
  • receipt and use of federal loans 
  • loan balances with the federal government (when there are continuing compliance requirements)
  • interest subsidies from the federal government

So if the government or nonprofit expends at least $750,000 in federal funds during its fiscal year, a Single Audit is necessary. If it expends less than $750,000, then a Single Audit is normally not required. States may, however, require a Single Audit even though amounts expended are less than $750,000.

Does the entity look solely at funds received directly from the federal government? No. Federal awards may come directly from a federal agency. But they may also come indirectly through a pass-through entity such as a state. The nature of the federal funds does not change as it passes through an entity (e.g., a state). It's still federal money.

In light of these facts, how does the Uniform Guidance define federal financial assistance? Let's take a look.

What is Federal Financial Assistance?

The Uniform Guidance defines federal assistance in the following manner:

§ 200.40 Federal financial assistance.

(a) Federal financial assistance means assistance that non-Federal entities receive or administer in the form of:

  (1) Grants;

  (2) Cooperative agreements;

  (3) Non-cash contributions or donations of property (including                 donated surplus property);

  (4) Direct appropriations;

  (5) Food commodities; and

  (6) Other financial assistance (except assistance listed in paragraph       (b) of this section).

(b) For § 200.202 Requirement to provide public notice of Federal financial assistance programs and Subpart F - Audit Requirements of this part, Federal financial assistance also includes assistance that non-Federal entities receive or administer in the form of:

  (1) Loans;

  (2) Loan Guarantees;

  (3) Interest subsidies; and

  (4) Insurance.

Total of Federal Assistance

The non-federal entity adds all federal financial assistance together to see if they exceed the $750,000 threshold. If, for example, a county government expends $500,000 in block grant funds and $450,000 in disaster funds during its fiscal year, then a Single Audit is necessary. 

Now that you understand Single Audit applicability, you may be wondering what the objectives are. 

Objectives of a Single Audit

The easiest way to understand the objectives of a Single Audit is to look at a Single Audit report. See example 13-1 from the AICPA. There are two main objectives. 

1. Opinion on Compliance with Federal Program Requirements

First, understand that the auditor provides an opinion regarding the entity's compliance with major federal program requirements.

A portion of that wording reads as follows:

Opinion on Each Major Federal Program
In our opinion, Example Entity complied, in all material respects, with the types of compliance requirements referred to above that could have a direct and material effect on each of its major federal programs for the year ended June 30,20X1.
2. Reporting on Internal Control Testing

Second, understand that the auditor reports on internal control testing. While no audit opinion is rendered by the auditor, the controls are tested nonetheless.  

A portion of that wording reads as follows:

Report on Internal Control Over Compliance
Management of Example Entity is responsible for establishing and maintaining effective internal control over compliance with the types of compliance requirements referred to above. In planning and performing our audit of compliance, we considered Example Entity's internal control over compliance with the types of requirements that could have a direct and material effect on each major federal program to determine the auditing procedures that are appropriate in the circumstances for the purpose of expressing an opinion on compliance for each major federal program and to test and report on internal control over compliance in accordance with the Uniform Guidance, but not for the purpose of expressing an opinion on the effectiveness of internal control over compliance. Accordingly, we do not express an opinion on the effectiveness of Example Entity's internal control over compliance.

Single Audit Applicability and Objectives

In summary, Single Audits are necessary when an entity expends $750,000 or more. And the objectives of the audit are to provide an opinion on compliance with federal requirements and to report on the internal control testing. 

GASB 87 Lease Accounting
Jan 27

GASB 87 Lease Accounting

By Charles Hall | Accounting , Local Governments

Are you looking for GASB 87 lease accounting information? Are you a government that leases assets? Then you're in the right place. Below I provide information about lease terms, discount rates, accounting entries, and disclosure requirements.

GASB 87 Lease Accounting

Removal of Bright-Line Criteria

Historically governments have followed the guidance in FASB 13, Accounting for Leases. Lease classifications (i.e., operating or capital) were based on bright-line criteria such as whether the government leased an asset for more than 75% of its economic life. 

GASB 87, Leases, removes the bright-line criteria and calls for more judgment. (The words reasonably certain appears thirty-nine times in GASB 87.)

The new lease standard provides for various accounting alternatives. Let's see what they are.

Three Potential Accounting Alternatives

Regarding leases, there are now three accounting alternatives:

  1. Short-term leases
  2. Contracts that transfer ownership
  3. Contracts that do not transfer ownership

Before we dive deeper, here are three quick points about these alternatives:

First, know that short-term leases do not create a lease liability.

Second, understand that contracts that transfer ownership are a financed sale.

Third, know that contracts that do not transfer ownership create a lease liability. This third category is a catchall for arrangements that don't qualify for short-term lease treatment and don't transfer ownership.

Now, let's see how GASB defines a lease.

Definition of a Lease

GASB defines a lease this way:

A lease is defined as a contract that conveys control of the right to use another entity’s nonfinancial asset (the underlying asset) as specified in the contract for a period of time in an exchange or exchange-like transaction.

There are five points to this definition:

First, the lease must be a contract. 

Second, the contract must provide control of the right to use.

Third, this control is in relation to a nonfinancial asset.

Fourth, the control of the nonfinancial asset must be for a period of time.

And finally, the lease is an exchange or exchange-like transaction.

I think the terms contract, period of time, and exchange are easily understood. But the terms control and nonfinancial assets might cause some confusion. So let's clarify those.

Control

​A government controls an asset if it has the right to the present service capacity and the right to determine the nature and manner of use of the asset.

In other words, the government must have the right to the benefits generated from the asset. A city can drive a leased police car. That is the benefit, the present service capacity.

Additionally, Nature and manner address whether the government controls the use of the asset. A city police officer can, for example, drive a leased police car at 3:00 a.m. And she can drive it as far as she likes. The police department determines the nature and manner of use.

Nonfinancial Asset

And what is a nonfinancial asset? It's generally anything that is not a financial asset (e.g., cash, receivable). Examples of nonfinancial assets include buildings, land, vehicles, and equipment. There are exceptions, however. 

GASB 87 Scope Exclusions

GASB 87 does not apply to:

  • Leases of intangible assets (e.g., rights to explore for oil and gas)
  • Leased biological assets (e.g., timber)
  • Inventory that is leased
  • Service concession arrangements
  • Leases in which the underlying asset is financed with outstanding conduit debt (unless the underlying asset and the conduit debt are reported by the lessor)
  • Supply contracts (e.g., power purchase agreements)

Now let's see how to determine the lease term.

Lease Term

Prior to GASB 87, the minimum lease payments determined the lease term. Not so any more. In some cases, GASB 87 provides for a more subjective determination of a lease's term, one based on what is reasonably certain.

Lease Options

Under GASB 87, lease terms are not just the noncancelable portion of the agreement. Governments add the following to the noncancelable period:

  • Periods covered by a lessee’s option to extend the lease if it is reasonably certain, based on all relevant factors, that the lessee will exercise that option 
  • Periods covered by a lessee’s option to terminate the lease if it is reasonably certain, based on all relevant factors, that the lessee will not exercise that option 
  • Periods covered by a lessor’s option to extend the lease if it is reasonably certain, based on all relevant factors, that the lessor will exercise that option  
  • Periods covered by a lessor’s option to terminate the lease if it is reasonably certain, based on all relevant factors, that the lessor will not exercise that option.
Reasonably Certain Factors

In determining what reasonably certain is, the government considers factors such as the economic impact of not exercising an option or how the government has acted in the past.

Once the lease term decision is made, document your basis for doing so. Why? So there is a record of the decision. (Your auditors may want to see this. Additionally, the record provides valuable information regarding future lease term decisions.)

Fiscal Funding Clauses Affect on Term

Additionally, you may be wondering if fiscal funding clauses affect leases. (Fiscal funding clauses allow a government to cancel a lease if the government does not appropriate funds for the payments.) If a government is reasonably expected to exercise such a provision, then this factor can impact the lease term. Personally, however, I've never seen a government terminate a lease through such a provision. Fiscal funding clauses will usually not affect lease terms.

So, should governments ever reassess the term period?

Reassessment of Term

Government will generally not reassess the lease term decision. 

Nevertheless, reassessment will occur in some cases. Consider this example. The government enters into a fifteen-year lease with a five-year lease extension. The government believes that it will not exercise the five-year extension. But then in year fifteen, it does so. Now the government binds itself for another five years. Therefore, the lease is extended. And the additional five years is added to the lease term. 

Now that you know about lease terms, you may be wondering about short-term leases. How does a government account for those?

Short-Term Leases

Treat leases with a maximum possible term of twelve months or less as short-term leases. And do not capitalize such leases. 

One word of caution: if there are renewal options, include those in making the short-term lease classification decision, regardless of probability. If, for example, the lease is for twelve months with an option to renew for another six months, then the lease is not short-term. Even if the government believes it will not exercise the option.

So, how do you record short-term lease payments? As expenses.

Contract that Transfers Ownership

If an agreement transfers ownership of the asset to the lessee by the end of the contract, then the contract is a financed purchase. For the lessee, the government records the purchased asset (not an intangible) and the related debt (not a lease liability).

So, what about a lease agreement with a bargain purchase option? Should it be treated as financed purchase? The answer is no. The presence of a bargain purchase option in a lease contract is not the same as a provision that transfers ownership of the underlying asset.

Multiple Components of a Lease Contract

If an agreement has lease and non-lease components, split the transaction. 

A government might, for example, lease floors four and five of a ten-story building. In doing so, it is required to pay for common area maintenance. Split this transaction into a lease and a maintenance contract. Record the lease exclusive of the maintenance payments. If, however, it is not practicable to determine the separate price allocation, the government should account for the transaction as a single lease.

If a lease involves multiple underlying assets (say a police car and a water tank), the government should account for each as a separate lease component. 

Lessee Accounting

If the government is leasing an asset, then it will use the following guidance. (An exception exists if the lease is short-term as explained above.)

GASB 87 Lessee accounting

Initial Recognition

At commencement, the government recognizes an (1) intangible right-to-use asset and (2) a lease liability. 

So the government does not recognize the asset itself (e.g., tractor), but the right to use the asset. This is an intangible asset.

Now let's see how to compute the lease asset.

1. Lease Asset 

So. what goes in the lease asset calculation?

The government should include:

  • Initial lease liability (see below)
  • Payments made to lessor at or before commencement less any lease incentives received from the lessor at or before the commencement of the lease term
  • Initial direct costs that are ancillary charges necessary to place the lease asset into service

So what costs are not included in the intangible asset? Governments should exclude any debt issuance costs.

Notice that the lease asset can be greater than the lease liability. The lease asset starts with the lease liability and increases if, for example, the government makes a payment to the lessor prior to commencement of the lease term.

In governmental funds (e.g., general fund), the initial accounting entry is a debit to capital outlay and a credit to other financing sources. In full accrual funds (e.g., enterprise fund), the initial entry is a debit to the intangible lease asset and a credit to the lease liability.

So, how should the lease asset be amortized?

Lease Asset Amortization

Amortize the lease asset in a systematic and rational manner over the shorter of the lease term or the asset's useful life. Usually this will be straight-line amortization.

And what are the journal entries for recording the lease asset?

Lease Asset Accounting

The government records the lease asset and then amortizes it using an entry such as the following (for full-accrual funds; e.g., water and sewer fund):

Account
Amortization Expense
Accumulated Amortization - Right-of-Use Asset
Debit
XX


Credit


XX

GASB 87 says to report the amortization as an outflow of resources (e.g., amortization expense). The amortization expense can, for financial reporting purposes, be combined with the depreciation expense of other capital assets. 

Modified accrual funds (e.g., general fund) will not record an amortization entry. Why? The asset does not appear on the balance sheet.

2. Lease Liability 

How does a government compute the lease liability?

Simply put, the lease liability is the present value of everything you think you're going to pay. Prior to GASB 87, governments used the present value of minimum lease payments. Now governments include payments that are reasonably certain. (See information above regarding what is reasonably certain.)

The computation is made up of the present value of:

  • Fixed payments
  • Variable payments that depend on an index or a rate (e.g., consumer price index) measured using the index or rate as of the commencement of the lease
  • Variable payments that are fixed in substance
  • Amounts that are reasonably certain of being required to be paid by the lessee under residual value guarantees
  • The exercise price of a purchase option if it is reasonably certain that the lessee will exercise that option
  • Payments for penalties for terminating the lease
  • Any lease incentives receivable from the lessor
  • Any other payments that are reasonably certain of being required based on an assessment of all relevant factors
Variable Payments Based on Future Performance

Governments will not include payments based on future performance or usage in the lease liability. Expense such payments in the period incurred. 

For example, if a government leases a vehicle with a provision for 12,000 miles annually but the car is driven 15,000 miles, expense the payment for the additional mileage as incurred.

So, where does the discount rate come from?

Discount Rate

Use the rate charged by the lessor if specified in the agreement. If not specified, use the incremental borrowing rate for the government. This is the estimated rate the government would pay if, during the life of the lease, it borrowed the funds for those lease payments.

Lease Liability Accounting

Once the initial lease is recorded as a liability, the government will begin making periodic payments to the lessor. The effective interest rate method will be used. Record the payments as follows (for full-accrual funds; e.g., water and sewer fund):

Account
Lease liability
Interest Expense

Cash

Debit
XX

XX

Credit


XX

Post the payments to principal and interest expenditures in modified accrual accounting funds (e.g., general fund).

GASB 87 Disclosures

The following disclosures are required for lessees:

  • A general description of its leasing arrangements 
  • The total amount of lease assets, and the related accumulated amortization, disclosed separately from other capital assets
  • The amount of lease assets by major classes of underlying assets, disclosed separately from other capital assets
  • The amount of outflows of resources recognized in the reporting period for variable payments not previously included in the measurement of the lease liability
  • The amount of outflows of resources recognized in the reporting period for other payments (e.g., termination penalties) not previously included in the measurement of the lease liability
  • Principal and interest requirements to maturity, presented separately, for the lease liability for each of the five subsequent fiscal years and in five-year increments thereafter
  • Commitments under leases before the commencement of the lease term
  • The components of any loss associated with an impairment 

Transition

Apply GASB 87 retroactively, if practicable, for all periods presented. Use the facts and circumstances existing at the beginning of the implementation period to record the leases.

The notes to the financial statements should disclose the nature of the restatement and its effect. 

GASB 87 says that the provisions of this statement need not be applied to immaterial items.

GASB 87 Effective Date

The effective date of GASB 87 is for reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2019. 

Early application is encouraged. 

Fraud Prevention for Small Governments
Feb 06

Fraud Prevention for Small Governments

By Charles Hall | Fraud , Local Governments

Many small governments suffer losses from theft since they lack a sufficient number of employees to segregate accounting duties. There are, however, steps you can take to protect your resources. In this post, I provide ideas for fraud prevention in small governments.

Most government officials don’t realize that external audits are not designed to detect immaterial fraud (immaterial can be tens of thousands of dollars – sometimes even more). Such officials incorrectly believe that a clean opinion means no fraud is occurring in their locale – this is a mistake. External financial statement opinion audits are not designed to look for fraud at immaterial levels. Even if your government has an external audit, consider implementing fraud prevention procedures.

Fraud Prevention for Small Governments

In a typical small government accounting setting, the city of In Between (as in between two stop lights) (population 1,202) has a mayor and three council members. The city has one bookkeeper (we’ll call him Dale) who orders and receives all purchased items; he writes all checks, reconciles bank statements, and keys all transactions into the accounting system. Dale also receipts all collections and makes all deposits. Mayor Chester signs all checks (vendor and payroll). (In a long-standing tradition, the mayor also graces the city Christmas parade float as Santa Claus.) With so little segregation of duties, what can be done?

The smaller the government, the greater the need for fraud prevention – even if Santa Claus in involved. And yet, these are the governments that most often don’t have the resources–whether the money to pay for outside assistance or employees to segregate duties–to prevent fraud. Here are few ideas for even the smallest of governments.

Low-Cost Fraud Prevention

First, let’s look at low-cost fraud prevention options:

  • Have all bank statements mailed directly to Mayor Chester who will open and inspect the bank statement activity before providing the bank statements to Dale; alternatively, provide online access to Mayor Chester who reviews bank statement activity and signs a monthly memo documenting his review
  • Once or twice a year, have council members pick two months at random (e.g., May and September) and review key bank statement activity (e.g., the operating and payroll accounts)
  • Once or twice a year, have council members randomly select checks (e.g., ten vendor checks and ten payroll checks) and review supporting documentation (e.g., invoices and time sheets)
  • Once or twice a year, have the mayor and council review receipt collections and related documentation (e.g., for two days deposits); agree receipts to bank deposits and to the general ledger
  • Provide monthly budget to actual reports to mayor and council
  • Provide monthly overtime summaries to mayor and council
  • Do not allow Dale to sign checks
  • Require two signatures on checks above a certain level (e.g., $5,000); have two of the council members (in addition to the mayor) on the bank signature cards; supporting documentation (e.g., invoice) should be provided to check signers for review
  • Require Mayor Chester and Dale to authorize any wire transfers
  • Have Dale provide the mayor with monthly bank reconciliations; the mayor should document (e.g., initial the reconciliation) his review
  • Don’t provide Dale with a credit card
  • If Dale is provided a credit card, provide him with one card; use a low maximum credit limit (e.g., $1,000); Dale’s credit card statements should be provided to the mayor when he signs the related check for payment
  • Use a centralized receipting location (if possible); receipts should always be written upon collection of a payment

Higher Cost Fraud Fraud Prevention

Now let’s examine some higher cost options (that are probably more effective):

  • Have an outside CPA or Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) perform the receipting and payment tests listed above
  • Have an outside CPA or CFE map your internal control system and make system-design recommendations
  • Have an outside CPA or CFE make surprise unannounced visits (e.g., two per year) to examine the receipting system, payroll, and the payment system; at the beginning of the year, tell Dale that the surprise visits will occur (details of what will be tested should not be communicated to Dale)
  • Install a security camera to record all of Dale’s collection and receipting activity
  • Purchase fidelity bond to cover elected officials and Dale

Keep in mind that you can limit the cost of the outside CPA. The contract might read Surprise audit of vendor payments with cost limited to $1,500. Try to contract with a CPA or CFE with governmental experience. The surprise audits and the fidelity bond recommendations are, in my opinion, the most critical steps.

Some states like New York audit local governments for fraud; consequently, if your local government is frequently audited by a state agency, there may be less of a need to hire an outside CPA or CFE to perform fraud prevention procedures.

Additional Fraud Prevention Resources

Click here for a list of local government controls to consider.

For additional insights into preventing fraud in your government, get The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention on Amazon.

Yellow Book Independence
Feb 02

Yellow Book Independence and Preparing Financial Statements

By Charles Hall | Auditing , Local Governments

Yellow Book independence is a big deal. And if you prepare financial statements in a Yellow Book audit, you need to be aware of the independence rules. Below I tell you how to maintain your independence—and stay out of hot water,

Yellow Book Independence

Yellow Book Independence Impairment in Peer Review

Suppose that--during your peer review--it is determined your firm lacks independence in regard to a Yellow Book engagement.

What could happen? Well, I can't say for sure, but I think it would be nasty. At a minimum, you would probably receive a finding for further consideration. The engagement is definitely nonconforming (not conforming to professional standards).

Then, you'd need to provide a response--explaining what you intend to do about the lack of independence. And this could get very interesting. Not where you want to be.

Preparation of Financial Statements is a Significant Threat

If you prepare financial statements (a nonattest service) for your audit client, you have a significant threat. Why? You are auditing something (the financial statements) that you created. There is a self-review threat. 

When there is a significant threat, you must use a safeguard (to lessen the threat). Such as? A second partner review. So, for example, you might have a second audit partner (someone not involved in the audit) review the financial statements. Since the second partner did not create the financial statement, the self-review threat is mitigated.

Notice the safeguard (the second partner review) is something the audit firm does--and not an action of the audit client. Therefore, it qualifies as a safeguard.

2018 Yellow Book

The 2018 Yellow Book states the following in paragraph 3.88:

Auditors should conclude that preparing financial statements in their entirety from a client-provided trial balance or underlying accounting records creates significant threats to auditors' independence, and should document the threats and safeguards applied to eliminate and reduce threats to an acceptable level...or decline to provide the services. 

But My Client has Sufficient SKE

You've heard your audit client must have sufficient skill, knowledge and experience (SKE) and that they must oversee and assume responsibility for nonattest services. This is true and is always required when nonattest services are provided to an audit client. 

Even so, the client's SKE does not address the self-review threat

Think of the SKE issue as a minimum requirement. Do not pass "go" if the client does not assign someone (with SKE) to oversee the nonattest service. You are not independent. End of discussion. (If the client does not have sufficient SKE, see section below titled Inadequate Skill, Knowledge, and Experience.)

SKE is not a safeguard

The January AICPA Reviewer Alert distinguishes the SKE requirement from safeguards saying, "Client SKE should not be viewed as a safeguard, but rather a mandatory condition before performing any nonaudit services."

Once the client SKE issue is dealt with, consider if auditor safeguards are necessary. Why? A self-review threat may be present. 

The AICPA (in its AICPA Yellow Book Practice aid) provides examples of safeguards (again, these are actions of the audit firm) including:

  • Obtaining secondary reviews of the nonaudit services by professional personnel who were not involved in planning or supervising the audit engagement.
  • Obtaining secondary reviews of the nonaudit services by professional personnel who were not members of the audit engagement team.

See Appendix E of the AICPA Yellow Book Practice Aid for additional examples of safeguards and how to apply them.

Independence Documentation is Required

The Yellow Book requires that your independence be documented. If it is not, a violation of professional standards exists. 

So, document the SKE of the client and the safeguards used to address significant threats. Also, document which nonattest services are signficiant threats. Peer reviewers focus on Independence documentation.

Document Significant Threats

The January 2019 Reviewer Alert (an AICPA newsletter provided to peer reviewers) provides a scenario where an audit firm performs a Yellow Book audit and prepares financial statements. Then the firm has an engagement quality control review (EQCR) performed, but it does not identify the preparation of financial statements as a significant threat. The newsletter states "the engagement would ordinarily be deemed nonconforming for failure to document identification of a significant threat." So, even if a safeguard (e.g., a second partner review) is in use, the lack of documentation makes the engagement nonconforming.

Judging Client's SKE

Here are examples of client personnel that might be available to oversee the financial statements preparation service:
  1. A 15 year mayor who is a businessman, no accounting education, no formal training in reading governmental financial statements. He understands the fund level statements but can't grasp the reconciliation between the government-wide financial statements and the fund level financial statements.
  2. Second year finance director with no prior accounting experience, graduated from a two year college with a degree in general business.
  3. Finance director with 25 years experience and is a CPA and a member of GFOA. She trains others in governmental accounting.
  4. Finance director with a high school education but has extensive governmental accounting training from the Carl Vinson Institute. He has the ability to create the financial statements from scratch.

As you can see, the Yellow Book independence assessment will sometimes be black and white, but other times, not so. Regardless, the audit client has to have someone with sufficient skill, knowledge and experience to oversee the financial statements preparation. Why? The auditor can't assume responsibility for the statements. This is a management responsibility.

Management Responsibilities

The 2018 Yellow Book (paragraph 3.75) says the following about management responsibilities:

In cases where the audited entity is unable or unwilling to assume these responsibilities (for example, the audited entity does not have an individual with suitable skill, knowledge, or experience to oversee the nonaudit services provided, or is unwilling to perform such functions because of lack of time or desire), auditors should concluded that the provisions of these services is an impairment to independence.

Additionally, paragraph 3.73 of the Yellow Book states:

Auditors should determine that the audited entity has designated an individual who possesses suitable skill, knowledge, or experience and that the individual understands the services to be provided sufficiently to oversee them.

If the government has no one with sufficient SKE, then the external auditor is not independent and can't perform the audit.

So, is there another option when the client does not have sufficient SKE?

Inadequate Skill, Knowledge, and Experience

If the auditor can't get comfortable with the client's SKE (e.g., the client's ability to review the financial statements and assume responsibility), what can be done? The audited entity can hire someone with sufficient SKE. For example, the entity could contract with a CPA not affiliated with the external audit firm to review the financial statements on their behalf.

Many smaller governments need to contract with an outside person in order to have sufficient SKE. The problem, however, is they may not have the funds to do so. If you as the auditor make this suggestion, be prepared for this question: "Isn't this why I hired you?" Regardless, the client has to have sufficient SKE before the auditor can issue an opinion. 

In Summary

Here's the lowdown to protect your firm:

  1. Document the nonattest services you are to perform
  2. Document the client person that will oversee and assume responsibility for the nonattest service
  3. Document the SKE of the designated person
  4. Consider whether any nonattest services are significant threats 
  5. Document which, if any, nonattest services are significant threats
  6. Use (and document) a safeguard to address each significant threat (examples of safeguards include an EQCR or a second-partner review)

Looking for a tool to document Yellow Book independence? Consider the AICPA's practice aid. Here is the free PDF version. You can also purchase the fillable version here. (Cost is $39 for AICPA members.) This is the 2011 Yellow Book aid. I am thinking the AICPA will create a 2018 Yellow Book version as well. 

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