On May 25, 2021, Mr. Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States, led a virtual discussion group on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 30 organizations—including INTOSAI organizations and 21 Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs), donor and civil society organizations, and United Nations organizations and observers—contributed to the dialogue.
The group stems from an initial lessons learned report generated by INTOSAI’s Policy, Finance, and Administration Committee (PFAC) in September 2020. The report aimed to improve government efforts to prepare for and respond to future pandemics, and provide insights on oversight of pandemic response efforts. The lessons learned were:
- Establishing clear goals and plans, and defining roles and responsibilities
- Developing a transportation preparedness plan
- Establishing transparency and accountability mechanisms
- Providing clear, consistent communication
- Collecting and analyzing adequate and reliable data
The informal, “round robin”–style discussion group offered the opportunity for each organization to share thoughts on the five previously identified lessons learned and describe any additional lessons or best practices to add to the list.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Dodaro highlighted the major role SAIs can and should play in providing oversight of emergency measures, and the importance of pooling knowledge on responding to current and future crises. Mr. Dodaro mentioned work performed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in this area, such as conducting real-time audits during the pandemic and issuing more than 70 related recommendations thus far.
Mr. Dodaro also described GAO’s role, through the PFAC, in providing assistance to SAIs for continuity of operations during the crisis. This included developing a website to share resources, guidance, and training, and providing 49 grants to date through INTOSAI funding to help SAIs with procuring information and communications technologies and personal protective equipment.
The discussion participants largely agreed with the five lessons learned, and offered suggestions for expanding upon or adding to them, such as:
- Developing clear guidelines on procurement
- Clarifying the responsibilities of central and local government
- Developing a preparedness plan for all sectors of the economy and public services, including transportation
- Focusing more on digitalization and remote audits
Some participants noted that the pandemic has presented SAIs with opportunities, such as to demonstrate their importance in ensuring the stability of public systems.
However, the pandemic also widened the gap between better and more poorly resourced SAIs, underscoring the need to strengthen support for vulnerable members of the INTOSAI community.
GAO plans to continue collaborating with members on the thoughts and suggestions presented at this initial meeting and gather any additional lessons learned and best practices, welcome any new discussion group members, and prepare for the group’s next meeting in the fall, with an eye on issuing a follow-on lessons learned report afterward.