International Journal of Auditing – April 2008
Reflecting on the Past and Preparing for the Future
It is with mixed emotions that I write this editorial after my resignation from the position of Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). First and foremost, from a U.S. perspective, I take comfort in knowing that during my tenure GAO was able to accomplish all but one of the major goals that I set out when I came on board in 1998. The final goal will be the focus of my efforts in my new position as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. As a result of a major transformation effort within GAO, I was also able to leave the organization in great shape—it is well positioned for the future and, with the appointment of Gene Dodaro as Acting Comptroller General, it is in good hands. Second, from an international perspective, I was pleased to be a participant in the major transformation that INTOSAI also underwent during the past 10 years. In fact, my involvement with INTOSAI was one of my most enjoyable, rewarding, and memorable experiences as Comptroller General.
My INTOSAI experience is the subject of this editorial. When I was first appointed Comptroller General of the United States, I was advised that my position made me an automatic member of a number of domestic and international accountability organizations, including INTOSAI. During my many years of private and public sector experience as a certified public accountant, I had never heard of INTOSAI. However, on my third day as Comptroller General I flew to Montevideo, Uruguay, to attend a portion of the 1998 INCOSAI and my first INTOSAI board meeting. I can vividly recall my first reception, where I casually mentioned that the use of the word "supreme" in the organization's name seemed a little "over the top"— people didn't initially see the humor in my remark. In fact, INTOSAI was in 1998 a much more formal hierarchy and, in my view, a less visible and effective organization than it is today. After participating in 3 days of meetings in Montevideo, I said to myself, "This organization has real potential that has yet to be realized." However, I was concerned with its governance structure and operating style, and as a result, I decided that I was either going to help reform and modernize INTOSAI or not spend much time on it. All of you know that I chose the first option, and I am very glad that I did.
Though our joint efforts over the past 9-plus years, INTOSAI has become a truly transformed organization. Today, INTOSAI has a strategic plan that is being embraced by the membership. I had the honor and pleasure of chairing the Strategic Planning Task Force that developed the plan through consultations, constructive engagements, consensus building, and communications efforts. As a result, INTOSAI's first ever strategic plan was adopted unanimously by all member countries at the 2004 INCOSAI in Budapest. The strategic plan has also opened the door for the international donor community to seek to partner with INTOSAI to fight corruption, enhance transparency, improve performance, and ensure the accountability of governments all around the globe. In my view, INTOSAI should seek to expeditiously capitalize on this opportunity while maintaining its independence and making sure that any related efforts are consistent with its commitment to inclusiveness. I was particularly pleased when INTOSAI chose the two themes for the 2007 INCOSAI in Mexico City (fiscal sustainability and key national indicators) and how those in attendance at the conference seemed to embrace them. I have a strong personal interest in and commitment to these issues, which represent high value-added opportunities for INTOSAI members in the future.
Through the combined efforts of many individuals, INTOSAI is now well positioned to make its motto—"Mutual Experience Benefits All"—really come alive. I have always been a strong believer in sharing knowledge and experience with others, what I like to call "partnering for progress." INTOSAI offers all SAIs the opportunity to do so on a broad range of performance and accountability issues in a professional and nonpolitical manner. In fact, INTOSAI can help SAIs not only reach their full potential, but also further global progress and facilitate the building of bridges between nations whose politicians do not get along with each other. In addition to having a solid strategic plan to build from, INTOSAI also has a committed and inspired Secretary General in Josef Moser to help it do so. I was truly impressed with Dr. Moser's enthusiastic support for the strategic plan, and I have enjoyed partnering with him and my many other colleagues to help bring it to life. In many ways, I view my colleagues in INTOSAI as extended family. The family, however, is so large that I don't have the space to list them all in this article. My brothers and sisters, I may be changing positions, but I remain interested in and committed to INTOSAI's mission.
I take some comfort in knowing that I will be able to continue to have some involvement in the international accountability community in my new role as Chairman of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee of the United Nations. Thanks to all of you for your friendship and support. May God be with each and every one of you in the future. Please keep the faith and stay the course. If you do, INTOSAI's best years will be ahead.