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Practice Guide to Auditing Efficiency

Sample Objectives from Published Audits on the Efficiency of Application Processes

In 2009, the Auditor General of Canada conducted an efficiency audit of the process for selecting foreign workers under the immigration program with the following descriptive audit objective:

“The audit objective was to determine whether Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) efficiently and effectively handle program planning and delivery to facilitate the entry of permanent and temporary foreign workers into Canada.” (About the Audit section)

The audit focused mainly on efficiency of systems but also commented on effectiveness and results. For example, the following conclusion relates to systems:

“Overall, we found that current practices of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) do not ensure that foreign worker programs are delivered efficiently and effectively. … [A]n information technology system that is key to its plans has been under development for almost 10 years. As a result, employees in offices abroad are still buried in paperwork and spending a great deal of their time on clerical tasks.” (paragraphs 2.139 and 2.143)

In 2013, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a review of the process for pipeline permitting, also using a descriptive objective. The objective did not include the term “efficiency” but the review focused on concepts such as timeliness, which are included in the concept of efficiency:

“Our objectives for this review were to determine (1) the processes necessary for pipeline companies to acquire permits to construct interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines; (2) information available on the time frames associated with the natural gas pipeline permitting process; and (3) stakeholder-identified management practices, if any, that may improve the permitting process.” (page 35)

The GAO’s findings focused on both results and systems, as demonstrated by the following excerpt:

“Both the interstate and intrastate natural gas pipeline permitting processes are complex and can involve multiple federal, state, and local agencies, as well as public interest groups and citizens, and include multiple steps…Time frames associated with the interstate and intrastate permitting processes vary because of multiple factors, according to stakeholders. For the interstate process, FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] does not track time frames, citing the limited usefulness of such data. GAO analyzed public records and found that, for those projects that were approved from January 2010 to October 2012, the average time from pre-filing to certification was 558 days; the average time for those projects that began at the application phase was 225 days.” (Highlights page)

Another recent GAO report focused on processing of veterans’ disability benefits and had a similar descriptive objective:

“This report examines the (1) factors that contribute to lengthy processing times for disability claims and appeals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and (2) status of the Veteran Benefits Administration’s (VBA) recent efforts to improve disability claims and appeals processing timeliness.” (page 35)

Again, the findings included both systems and results:

“A number of factors—both external and internal to the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)—have contributed to the increase in processing timeframes and subsequent growth in the backlog of veterans’ disability compensation claims. As the population of new veterans has swelled in recent years, the annual number of claims received by VBA has gone up. Compared to the past, these claims have a higher number of disabling conditions, and some of these conditions, such as traumatic brain injuries, make their assessment complex. Moreover, due to new regulations that have established eligibility for benefits for new diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, VBA adjudicated 260,000 previously denied and new claims. Beyond these external factors, issues with the design and implementation of the compensation program have contributed to timeliness challenges. For example, the law requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to assist veterans in obtaining records that support their claim. However, VBA officials said that lengthy timeframes in obtaining military records—particularly for members of the National Guard and Reserve—and Social Security Administration (SSA) medical records impact VA’s duty to assist, possibly delaying a decision on a veteran’s disability claim. As a result, the evidence gathering phase of the claims process took an average of 157 days in 2011. Further, VBA’s paper-based claims processing system involves multiple hand-offs, which can lead to misplaced and lost documents and can cause unnecessary time delays. Concerning timeliness of appeals, VBA regional offices have shifted resources away from appeals and toward claims in recent years, which has led to lengthy appeals timeframes.” (Highlights page)