Within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Internal Review (IR) supports the local commander and their staff by improving programs and operations through independent analytical reviews and studies, or audits.
After 14 years with USACE New Orleans District (MVN) IR, and 29 years of total audit experience, Donna Williams, MVN IR chief, has some lessons learned to share with new auditors, especially when it comes to conducting an audit during an Emergency Management response to a natural disaster.
“The main idea for the emergency missions is to get in and do the work and get out,” Williams said. “The whole key is for us to stay out of the way, but what we do is extremely valuable.”
Preparing auditors with information about what they can expect in an emergency helps them efficiently conduct IR activities without taking valuable time away from first responders or damage assessment teams, Williams said.
“I've done ‘Blue Roof’ so many times that when I go there, I know who all the players are, so I don't have to sit down and introduce myself,” Williams said. “They know who I am, I know exactly where to go, I know ahead of time who to get the information from and how to gain access to the different systems. I have access to the temporary roofing team, so I have all that ahead of time and so I don't even have to request contracts anymore.”
That’s why Albert Hervey, Galveston District (SWG) IR chief, invited Williams to District Headquarters.
Williams came to Galveston Aug. 31, 2023, to collaborate and share these best practices with SWG auditors.
Col. Rhett Blackmon, SWG commander, took time to meet with Williams and thank her for sharing her work experience with Galveston District auditors.
“Internal Review is a vital quality control program for commanders,” Blackmon said. “IR auditors help a district deliver projects on budget and improve our processes for the next mission.”
IR auditors can deploy with Emergency Management in response to a natural disaster and play an important role in quality and cost control, Hervey said.
“We can find mistakes, they can fix them on the spot and save money, versus once they pay the contractor it's hard to get money back, but if we can fix something ahead of time and change something we can save that money,” Hervey said. “One of our reports from a prior event was that in one single audit we returned more money – about 15 or 20 times more money – than all the deployment costs for Internal Review. We returned about $475,000 on one single audit and that was not even challenged by the contractor and the money went back to the mission, and to me that can be even multiplied, because it made all contractors aware that someone was watching and checking and making sure that we got value for the money that we were spending, so I think that's extremely important.”
Williams also provided peer assessment training to SWG auditors.
A peer review is a process by which experienced professionals review each other’s work against the standards governing their profession.
“The peer assessment is our technical scorecard performed by higher headquarters, sometimes USACE or DA (Dept. of the Army) or DODIG (Dept. of Defense Inspector General),” Hervey said. “Normally it is given every 3 years. Every USACE district will have one.”
It is important in the audit field to assure we are impartial and have adequate evidence and documentation supporting our findings, Hervey said.
“Lack of the level of supporting documentation necessary to record a finding renders the audit non-compliant and of little value to the command,” Hervey said. “Peer reviews look at these technical issues and provide an opinion of their inspection/review. It is the major test of quality of technical performance.”
Hervey was thankful for Williams’ assistance in training relatively new employees.
“We have two employees, one that's been here less than a year, one just over a year, and Donna has the background and experience to point them in the right direction, both for peer review which is relatively new to them and Emergency Management,” Hervey said.
Geoffrey Veuleman and Neil Hoover are the newest additions to the SWG IR team.
“In general, I learned a lot about the different steps of the peer review process and tools to help us be prepared for the peer review process,” Veuleman said. “For Emergency Management I learned about the different missions that we might be asked to perform and some of the previous reports that we've had on some of the issues that we've run into.”
Williams armed SWG auditors with new skills and an increased amount of situational awareness they can use in the field when they are called to respond to a natural disaster.