Evaluating Internal and External Audit Proposals

By: Brian R. DuMond, CPA (Jan, 2012)

So, the district's board of education/audit committee has sent out a request for proposal for Internal Audit or External Audit services and has a stack of anywhere from 3 to 5+ proposals to sort through and evaluate. Now what?

Every district seems to handle it differently. Some have an elaborate evaluation score sheet that provides points for meeting certain criteria. Points are awarded by rating mandatory criteria from the request for proposal, technical criteria and cost. Other districts look at the cost, throw those that are clearly too high and low out, and then focus on those that are left. Although it is not required, some automatically make a change of auditors after 5 years regardless of the service provided. Others seem to automatically renew with the firm they are using as long as they continue to provide value and the fee is in line with other firms performing similar services. 

Whatever your approach, we offer the following considerations from an Internal/External Auditor's perspective that we hope helps you in the evaluation process.

    • Make sure each firm has the basics in place:
          • The Firm's personnel has sufficient experience performing the service, is licensed to practice in NYS, and meets the required governmental continuing professional education requirements.

          • The Firm is following AICPA and Government Auditing Standards,

          • Their peer review report is attached and does not contain any negative content.

          • Sufficient references are provided to demonstrate industry and service expertise.
    • Gain an understanding of how many hours are estimated for the engagement, but make sure you are comparing apples to apples. More hours can, but doesn't always mean a better audit or better service. Some firms use less experienced staff that may take longer to complete the same work that an experienced staff may do in less time. Who would you rather have working on the district's engagement?
    • Make sure to get input from management on the incumbent firm and any experience they may have had with the other firm's soliciting a proposal. The Board of Education/Audit Committee typically only sees the External Auditor or Internal Auditor 3 or 4 times each year maximum. Management works with them more often and can speak to quality of the audit team, communication throughout the year, etc. Management and the External Auditor/Internal Auditor need to be independent from each other, but should have a good working relationship. 
    • Interview at least two firms including your existing firm (unless the district is clearly dissatisfied with their service).
          • Ask how each firm intends to meet the standards they described in their proposal.

          • Ask each firm how they maintain their independence from management.

          • Ask each firm for a list of similar clients they have lost in the last 3 years and why they left. Confirm this through phone calls. After all, the references will normally say good things about the firm, or they wouldn't be listed as references.

          • Confirm with each firm what is included and not included in the fee. Some firms charge for phone calls, additional meetings, mileage and expenses. Others do not.

          • Gain an understanding of the firm's approach to each engagement. Some firm's perform all of the audit services at one time, while others stagger various parts of the engagement. Make sure the approach meets with the district's expectations.

          • Gain an understanding of what the deliverables are. Some firm's provide reports and schedules that offer additional explanation and analysis.

          • The district should have an external auditor/internal auditor that speaks to them in an easily understandable way and communicates practical suggestions. If you do not get this from firm during the interview, the district certainly will not get this from the firm once the engagement has been awarded.
    • After the contract is awarded, reevaluate after each year whether or not the Firm provided the service that they promised.

This list is not intended to be all inclusive and does not guarantee that you will obtain the firm that is the best fit for your district. That being said, we are hopeful that this correspondence provides additional assistance to you as a Board Member and/or an Audit Committee member. We welcome any comments or questions you may have.