[Viewpoint]Enforcing accountability

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[Viewpoint]Enforcing accountability

The central role of public audits today has shifted from legal control to managerial evaluation. A reflection of this trend is the performance audit, which combines the auditing of accounts and the evaluation of performance.
The International Organiza-tion of Supreme Audit Institu-tions also emphasizes that evaluation is an important part of the public audit. But big repercussions are expected because the presidential transition committee recently asked the Board of Audit and Inspection to stop doing performance evaluations.
In a modern public administration, legitimacy is the natural goal. The key to this lies in the improvement of performance. Therefore, mere correction or punishment of legal errors related to the management of accounts or duties is not the only thing that should be done in the auditing of the government.
This is the background of the emergence of the performance audit in which performance ― including economy, efficiency and the effectiveness of projects carried out by the government ― are evaluated as part of the audit and suggestions for improvement are made. In the United States, performance audits make up more than 80 percent of the duties of the General Accounting Office and a majority of its personnel are experts on policy analysis and evaluation.
In this era when the performance audit has taken the lead in public auditing, the presidential transition committee said in setting up the basis of audits by the Board of Audit and Inspection: “Move away from the policy audit and be faithful to the accounting audit and job inspection.” This sounds as if the focus of auditing from here on should be on the traditional audit of legitimacy rather than the performance audit.
The Board of Audit and Inspection attempted to do policy audits through performance audits from 1985 to 1987, but now the term itself is no longer in use. Because evaluations, conceptually, are a means of auditing policy, a policy audit is a type of performance audit.
Account auditing and job inspections are the traditional functions of the Board of Audit and Inspection, as stipulated by the Constitution of 1962. A performance audit (or policy audit) is seen, out of necessity, as a kind of job inspection. But job inspections can only be understood as an audit on legitimacy if the terms are contrasted, as the transition committee has done.
The Board of Audit and Inspection has not had much success in introducing performance auditing until now, but it has steadily laid the foundation as it has expanded and applied the logic of performance auditing under the rubric of “system audit” since 2004.
More than anything else, the establishment of the Evaluation Research Institute, not an audit research institute, under the board in 2005, was a turning point. In academic circles, this is assessed as a proactive measure for the advancement of auditing.
As it turns out, the presidential transition committee is setting a policy to take away policy evaluation from the Board of Audit and Inspection, which overlaps with the evaluation of government jobs by the office of the prime minister and has already submitted a revision bill on the Board of Audit and Inspection Act to the National Assembly.
This is a typical example of hasty prescription that can be seen in a period of regime change. It is worrisome that the foundation of the performance audit, laid with difficulty, might be shaken.
Also, if the evaluation is abolished, it will be hard to carry out differentiated audits properly for strengthening national competitiveness and removing inefficiency, as the presidential transition committee asked the Board of Audit and Inspection to do.
A more serious problem is that the presidential transition committee is approaching the status and functions of the Board of Audit and Inspection at the level of departmental integration or consolidation. This is where we can gauge how the new administration regards the board’s political neutrality.
The Board of Audit and Inspection is an independent agency whose function is to hold other administrative agencies accountable. If an evaluation done by the office of the prime minister is an internal evaluation of the administration, evaluation by the Board of Audit and Inspection is a quasi-external evaluation of all administrative departments, including the office of the prime minister.
Also, if an evaluation by the office of the prime minister is a managerial evaluation, a function of supervising administrative departments, an evaluation by the Board of Audit and Inspection is a control evaluation ― auditing to ensure accountability.
The new administration should ensure advancement of the work of the board and maintain and develop its key role that stresses evaluation.
There is another task the presidential transition committee should address: getting rid of overlapping and excessive evaluations within the administration and ensuring their effectiveness.
But metaevaluation of this task also belongs to the authority of the Board of Audit and Inspection. Political power does not equal political good. The transition committee should think about and deeply consider its political designs.

*The writer is a professor of public administration at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Hyun-ku
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