Category Archives for "Local Governments"

Single Audit Applicability
Jun 07

Single Audit Applicability and Objectives

By Charles Hall | Auditing , Local Governments

In this article, I provide information about Single Audits for local governments and nonprofits.

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 local 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 local 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. This is a Single Audit Requirement. (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 a local government or nonprofit 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. 

Understand Single Audits in less than five minutes in this video.

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

Threats to Yellow Book Independence

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. 

Yellow Book
Jul 17

Government Auditing Standards: 2018

By Charles Hall | Auditing , Local Governments

Government Auditing Standards 2018 Revision

The Government Accountability Office just issued the new Yellow Book titled Government Auditing Standards 2018 Revision.

Government Auditing Standards 2018 Revision

Get Your Free Copy

An electronic version of the 2018 Yellow Book can be accessed on GAO’s Yellow Book web page at http://www.gao.gov/yellowbook.

Major Changes

The introduction to the new Yellow Book summarizes the significant changes as follows:

This revision contains major changes from, and supersedes, the 2011 revision. These changes, summarized below, reinforce the principles of transparency and accountability and strengthen the framework for high quality government audits.

  • All chapters are presented in a revised format that differentiates requirements and application guidance related to those requirements.
  • Supplemental guidance from the appendix of the 2011 revision is either removed or incorporated into the individual chapters.
  • The independence standard is expanded to state that preparing financial statements from a client-provided trial balance or underlying accounting records generally creates significant threats to auditors’ independence, and auditors should document the threats and safeguards applied to eliminate and reduce threats to an acceptable level or decline to perform the service.
  • The peer review standard is modified to require that audit organizations comply with their respective affiliated organization’s peer review requirements and GAGAS peer review requirements. Additional requirements are provided for audit organizations not affiliated with recognized organizations.
  • The standards include a definition for waste.
  • The performance audit standards are updated with specific considerations for when internal control is significant to the audit objectives.

Effective with the implementation dates for the 2018 revision of Government Auditing Standards, GAO is also retiring Government Auditing Standards: Guidance on GAGAS Requirements for Continuing Professional Education (GAO-05-568G, April 2005) and Government Auditing Standards: Guidance for Understanding the New Peer Review Ratings (D06602, January 2014).

Effective Dates

The 2018 revision of Government Auditing Standards is effective for financial audits, attestation engagements, and reviews of financial statements for periods ending on or after June 30, 2020, and for performance audits beginning on or after July 1, 2019.

Early implementation is not permitted.

The 2018 revision of Government Auditing Standards supersedes the 2011 revision (GAO-12-331G, December 2011), the 2005 Government Auditing Standards: Guidance on GAGAS Requirements for Continuing Professional Education (GAO-05-568G, April 2005), and the 2014 Government Auditing Standards: Guidance for Understanding the New Peer Review Ratings (D06602, January 2014). 

Corporate account takeover
May 02

Corporate Account Takeover

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Fraud , Local Governments

Corporate account takeovers can cost you millions. 

Some thieves gain control of company bank accounts using a corporate account takeover scheme. And with that control, they steal money. Below you’ll see how this type of theft occurs.

Corporate account takeover

On March 17, 2010, cyber thieves hacked into the computers of Choice Escrow and stole the login ID and password to their online banking account. With that information, the thieves were able to submit a $440,000 wire transfer from Choice Escrow’s bank account to an account in Cyprus.

When Choice Escrow and the bank were unable to resolve their differences, Choice Escrow filed suit. The back-and-forth legal battle lasted until March 18, 2013, when a court ruled the loss was the responsibility of Choice Escrow. A major determining factor in the decision was Choice Escrow’s refusal of the dual control security mechanism offered by Bancorpsouth Bank. According to Article 4A of the Uniform Commercial Code, if an institution offers a reasonable security procedure to a commercial customer and that customer turns down that security procedure, then the customer is liable in the event of a loss.

Bancorpsouth Bank offered dual control to Choice Escrow twice. Not only did the bank offer this security feature to Choice Escrow, but Bancorpsouth also documented the customer’s refusal to use the security feature. The documentation of the customer’s refusal of the security features was a determining factor in this case. From a bank’s perspective, this case underscores the importance of a written agreement with commercial online banking customers and, more importantly, the importance of documenting the security procedures offered to those customers. From a user’s perspective, the case highlights the need to use the security procedures offered.

Corporate Account Takeover

Corporate account takeover is a term which has become more prevalent over recent years. Generally speaking, corporate account takeover occurs when an unauthorized person or entity gains access or control over another entity’s finances or bank accounts. This usually results in the theft of money in the form of fraudulent wire transfers or ACH transactions.

These fraud schemes first began to be noticed in 2005 but have since become much more widespread and frequent. Recent statistics have revealed that the fraudsters carrying out these schemes are actually becoming less successful in getting money out of a bank account. This reduction is due to both increased efforts on the part of the financial institutions, as well as better education of the customer to help them avoid becoming a target.

Usually, the financial institutions themselves are not the targets of the attack but rather the corporate customers of the institution. Using malware, social engineering, and various other methods, the fraudster obtains information about the customer’s online banking credentials. Once the online banking credentials have been obtained, a request for wire or ACH transfers is placed by the thief. Any business may be targeted for these types of attacks, but those at risk mostly are small businesses, governments, and nonprofits who have limited resources to protect against such threats.

So take these precautions to lessen the chance of a corporate account takeover. 

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