Audit of Recipient Audit Framework

 

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Prepared by: Office of Audit and Evaluation, National Research Council Canada

Approval: This report was approved by the NRC's President on October 26th, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-660-29030-0

Acronyms and Abbreviations

CFO Chief Financial Officer
CTE Commitment to Excellence
DAC Department audit committee
FB-TPAS Finance Branch – Transfer Payment Advisory Services
FMR Financial monitoring requirement
IAA Independent Audit Agent
IRAP Industrial Research Assistance Program
MAP Management action plans
SAP Specified audit procedures
TB Treasury Board
TBS Treasury Board Secretariat
 

Executive Summary and Conclusion

Background

NRC's Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) provides a comprehensive suite of innovation services and funding to Canadian organizations and small and medium-sized enterprises in an effort to accelerate growth and stimulate wealth creation. The Treasury Board Policy on Transfer Payments (2008) sets out government-wide objectives to ensure that funding, such as that provided by IRAP, is managed with integrity, transparency and accountability. It requires that "transfer payments be managed in a manner that is sensitive to risks, that strikes an appropriate balance between control and flexibility, and that establishes the right combination of good management practices and streamlined administration and outlines clear requirements for performance".

A recipient audit is an assessment that provides assurance on a recipient's compliance with a funding agreement. It is conducted by an independent audit agent and may include reviewing the eligibility of expenditures incurred by the recipient, assessing internal controls related to the funding agreement or testing the validity of any reports submitted. To ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of a recipient audit, the existence and application of a risk-based recipient audit framework is critical. A framework helps to clarify the desired level of assurance, intent, and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit. It outlines roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders and enables consistency in both the recipients selected for review and the audit procedures performed. Through a consistent approach, Management is able to identify significant and/or pervasive issues that may require attention.

The Audit of IRAP's Recipient Audit Framework was approved by the President following the recommendations of the Departmental Audit Committee as part of the NRC 2017-18 to 2019-20 Risk-Based Internal Audit Plan.

Audit Objective

The objective of our audit was to provide assurance that IRAP has developed and implemented an adequate recipient audit framework to support the delivery of the IRAP program and that the framework is working as intended.

Strengths

Governance structures have been established to ensure that IRAP's formally documented recipient audit framework is approved by Management and disseminated to all key individuals. The framework applies a risk-based approach through sampling and audit procedures, which are performed by an independent audit agent that has been selected based on the criteria recommended in the Treasury Board Secretariat Guideline on Recipient Audits. Recipient audit results are shared with key stakeholders, including IRAP management, Finance and NRC's Departmental Audit Committee and Management action plans are developed for findings requiring attention.

Areas for Improvement

Opportunities were identified to improve the recipient audit framework, specifically by clarifying the intent and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit and fully documenting all sampling procedures. This will ensure that the sampling approach is properly applied to support the conclusion and potential management decisions to be drawn. Further, the framework should define the expected timeline for each phase of the audit, as well as the frequency and ways in which audit progress, results and management action plans should be presented and monitored. Finally, internal resource availability and associated responsibilities should be reviewed and responsibilities adjusted, if required, to ensure all recipient audit responsibilities are fulfilled in a timely manner.

Recommendations

  1. The Vice-President of IRAP (VP, IRAP) should coordinate with the Vice President, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer (VP, CS & CFO) to update the framework to include:
    1. The timeline for each phase of the recipient audit, and
    2. The frequency and ways in which audit progress, results and subsequent management action plans are presented and monitored.

      [Priority: Moderate]

  2. The VP, IRAP should:
    1. Clarify the intent and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit, and
    2. Ensure the sampling practice is fully documented and aligned with the intent to support the conclusion and potential management decision to be drawn.

      [Priority: High]

  3. The VP, IRAP, in consultation with the VP, CS & CFO, should:
    1. Review resource availability and the associated responsibilities, and
    2. Adjust the responsibilities if required, to ensure all recipient audit responsibilities are fulfilled in a timely manner.

      [Priority: Moderate]

Audit Opinion and Conclusion

In my opinion as Chief Audit Executive, the majority of key elements of IRAP's recipient audit framework have been established to support the delivery of recipient auditing activities. While the conduct of the recipient audit activities is in compliance with the Treasury Board Policy on Transfer Payments, improvements are needed, as set out in this audit report.

Statement of Conformance

In my professional judgement as Chief Audit Executive, the audit conforms to the Institute of Internal Auditors' International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing (IIA Standards) and the Code of Ethics, as supported by the results of the Quality Assurance and Improvement Program.


Alexandra Dagger, CIA, Chief Audit Executive

Acknowledgements

The audit team would like to thank those who collaborated in this effort to highlight NRC's strengths and opportunities for improvement as they relate to this audit project.

1. Introduction

National Research Council's (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) provides a comprehensive suite of innovation services and funding to small and medium-sized Canadian enterprises and organizations in an effort to accelerate growth and stimulate wealth creation. Funding provided by IRAP for FY 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 was approximately $197M Footnote 1, $219M and $277M, respectively. Funding planned for FY 2017-18 is approximately $240M.

The Treasury Board (TB) Policy on Transfer Payments (2008) sets out government-wide objectives to ensure that funding, such as that provided by IRAP, is managed with integrity, transparency and accountability. It requires that "transfer payments be managed in a manner that is sensitive to risks, that strikes an appropriate balance between control and flexibility, and that establishes the right combination of good management practices and streamlined administration and outlines clear requirements for performance".

The Audit of IRAP's Recipient Audit Framework was approved by the President following the recommendations of the Departmental Audit Committee as part of the NRC 2017-18 to 2019-20 Risk-Based Internal Audit Plan.

2. Background and Context

A recipient audit is an assessment that provides assurance on a recipient's compliance with the funding agreement. It is conducted by an independent audit agent (IAA) and typically involves reviewing and possibly testing compliance with a funding agreement in a timely manner. According to the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) Guideline on Recipient Audits Under the Policy on Transfer Payments and the Directive on Transfer Payments, a recipient audit is a tool used for program management and recipient monitoring.

When establishing a risk-based framework for recipient audits, program management should be clear on the recipient audit intent. It is at the discretion of program management to decide what a recipient audit is intended to achieve in any particular circumstance. When designing the recipient audit framework, program management should consider the assessed risk of the Program, the desired level of assurance (confidence) and cost-benefit analysis. Assurance is the degree of confidence that the departmental manager expects from the conclusions in the recipient audit report.

A recipient audit can be:

  • an "audit", which provides high or reasonable assurance that the financial and non-financial information under review is free from material misstatement and highlights areas for management's attention;
  • a review engagement with moderate assurance, which provides the organization with a report on anything that may indicate a material misstatement; or,
  • specified audit procedures, which provides no assurance, with the opportunity to tailor the engagement to focus on particular areas or procedures based on risk.

It should be noted that a recipient audit does not provide absolute assurance that there are no errors or omissions (e.g. misstatement of a claim).

The TBS Directive on Transfer Payments states that program management is responsible for "determining when recipient audits are necessary to complement other departmental monitoring activities and developing and executing a risk-based framework for these recipient audits". Under a risk-based approach, funding agreements with the highest risk rating (e.g. importance or sensitivity, complexity and materiality of a program, value of funding, and/or risk profile of the recipient) are selected for increased monitoring.

Recipient audit activities can include reviewing tasks performed by a recipient, testing the validity of report submissions, assessing the recipients' internal controls related to the funding agreement, reviewing eligibility of expenditures incurred and/or confirming that performance objectives defined in the agreement are being met. To ensure the delivery of recipient audit is efficient and effective, a balance between administrative costs, level of assurance, expected conclusions and the risk profile of the recipients should be considered and reflected when designing the recipient audit procedures and monitoring, and reporting activities.

The recipient audit is just one of several types of assurance activities that are in place to support the on-going monitoring of recipients by program staff, such as recipient site visits. The recipient audit supports the role of the Departmental Audit Committee and the Chief Financial officer. It also complements the role of the internal audit function by providing additional assurance that funds are being used for intended purposes. The role of the internal audit function is to provide professional review and assessment, independent of program management, of departmental risk management, control and governance processes. The TBS Guideline on Recipient Audits recommends that internal audit personnel not perform recipient audits, to maintain independence from the recipient audit process, and instead may audit the recipient monitoring process performed by program management (i.e. recipient audit framework).

IRAP's recipient audit framework is intended to be updated on an annual basis to support the execution of the recipient audit, which is managed by IRAP Division Services, in collaboration with the Finance Branch - Transfer Payment Advisory Services (FB-TPAS). In FY 2015-16, IRAP transitioned from a full "audit" to a specified audit procedures approach, as previously described, to allow for a focus on aspects of a contribution agreement deemed risky, such as eligibility of costs claimed by the recipient. The results provided by the IAA are based on factual findings from the procedures performed, which are then reviewed and analyzed by IRAP and FB-TPAS. The selection of recipients to be audited (i.e. recipient sample selection) and the development of specified audit procedures are performed by IRAP and FB-TPAS. The specified audit procedures are then executed by the IAA.

A high-level summary of IRAP's recipient audit process has been outlined below.

Figure 1: IRAP's Recipient Audit Process

IRAP's Recipient Audit Process. Long description follows.
Long description of Figure 1

Figure 1 is a process flow chart outlining the four phases of the IRAP's recipient audit process. The four phases are: Planning, Execution, Reporting, and Monitoring. Under the Planning Phase, the two activities that take place are updating the audit plan by IRAP and the Finance Branch, and approving the audit plan by VP-IRAP and the CFO. Under the Execution Phase, the three activities that take place are selecting the recipients to be audited by IRAP and the Finance Branch, sending the audit notification letters to the recipients by IRAP and Finance, and performing the audit procedures by IAA. Under the Reporting Phase, the four activities that take place are issuing the individual and summary reports by IAA, preparing the internal summary report by IRAP and the Finance Branch, sharing the results with IRAP, Financial Management, and the Departmental Audit Committee, and documenting the action plans by IRAP. Under the Monitoring Phase, the two activities that take place are monitoring overpayment recovery actions by Finance and monitoring management action plans by IRAP.

 

The existence and application of a recipient audit framework is critical in ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of recipient audit activities. It clarifies the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders and enables consistency in both the recipients selected for review and the audit procedures performed. Through a consistent approach, Management is able to identify significant and/or pervasive issues that may require attention.

3. About the Audit

The purpose of NRC's internal audit function is to provide assurance on the reliability and integrity of financial and operational information, the effectiveness and efficiency of operations, and the ways in which the organization safeguards assets and complies with laws/ policies, regulations, and contracts Footnote 2.

Objective

The objective of our audit was to provide assurance that IRAP has developed and implemented an adequate recipient audit framework to support the delivery of the IRAP program and that the framework is working as intended.

Scope

The audit focused on governance, risk management, and control processes supporting the design, approval, and implementation of the IRAP recipient audit framework. Relying on TB policies and guidance, our audit assessed the adequacy and application of the framework, as well as how recipient audit results were considered to ensure key risks were mitigated and that recipient funds were used as intended.

The audit scope excluded the criteria used to assign risk ratings to individual IRAP recipients, referred to as the financial monitoring requirement (FMR). Alternatively, our audit focused on how the assigned FMR ratings are considered in the sampling methodology used to select recipients. The audit did not entail a re-performance of the annual recipient audit, as it focused solely on the framework as defined, documented and executed.

IRAP refers to their recipient audit framework as an "audit plan"; however, their audit plan includes both elements of a framework that remain static every year (e.g. roles and responsibilities), as well as audit plan details specific for the year under review. For the purpose of this report, we will refer to IRAP's audit plan as the "framework". Our audit included a review of two recipient audit frameworks:

  • FY 2015-16 (for funding awarded in FY 2014-15) and,
  • FY 2017-18 (for funding awarded in FY 2015-16 and FY 2016-17).

As the recipient audit for FY 2017-18 was in progress during our audit, we incorporated the previous framework to allow us to assess all phases of the recipient audit, including planning, execution and reporting. Both frameworks were generally consistent in content year over year, and if a finding is specific to one framework only, we will specify this in our report.

Approach / Methodology

The audit was conducted in accordance with the Institute of Internal Auditors Standards and the TB Policy on Internal Audit and related policy instruments. The audit criteria, detailed in Appendix A, were developed with consideration of the key risks identified as well as the key control objectives set out in the Treasury Board of Canada's Core Management Controls. These audit criteria formed the foundation of a detailed audit program that allowed us to perform a thorough assessment of the current recipient audit framework.

The audit methodology included the following procedures:

  • Documentation review (including TB policies and guidance, other government organizations' recipient audit frameworks, internal IRAP documentation and presentations, and IAA reports);
  • Interviews with IRAP Division Services, IRAP Regional Executive Directors and Finance Branch Transfer Payment personnel; and
  • Analytical review of IRAP's sampling methodology and selection.

4. Audit Findings and Recommendations

The following section outlines the audit's key findings, as well as three recommendations intended to add value to NRC's transfer payment operations and risk management strategies. The findings and recommendations have been categorized as follows:

  1. Framework Design and Application
  2. Recipient Audit Resources
  3. Reporting and Monitoring Recipient Audit Results

4.1 Framework Design and Application

Summary Finding

IRAP has a formally documented and approved recipient audit framework, which has been disseminated to all key stakeholders. The recipient audit framework aligns with TB requirements and applies a risk-based approach through sample selection and audit procedures.

An opportunity exists to clarify the intent and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit. In addition, the timeline for each phase of the recipient audit, as well as the frequency and ways in which recipient audit progress, results and subsequent management action plans are monitored should be documented in the recipient audit framework.

Our audit sought to confirm the existence of a formally documented framework that outlines the audit objective, intent and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit. It also sought to determine whether the framework clearly set out roles and responsibilities, a risk-based sampling approach to selecting recipient to be audited and the audit procedures to be performed. We expected the timeline for each phase of the recipient audit, and the reporting and monitoring requirements on follow-up activities to be defined. Finally, we sought to confirm that a governance structure was in place to allow for the review and approval of the framework by Management and the dissemination of the framework to all key individuals.

Observations

4.1.1 Design and Documentation

IRAP's recipient audit framework has been formally documented and is updated for each annual recipient audit through collaboration between IRAP's Program Expertise group and Finance Branch. A governance structure has been established to ensure that the final framework is approved by the Vice President of IRAP and the Vice President, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The approved framework is shared with key IRAP and Finance individuals to ensure they have the guidance required to fulfill their audit responsibilities.

Most key elements in the recipient audit framework have been designed, well documented and reflect the guidance provided in the TBS Guideline on Recipient Audits. Roles and responsibilities for IRAP Program Expertise under the IRAP Division Services, FB-TPAS and senior management have been defined and documented for the key phases of the recipient audit, including planning, execution, reporting and monitoring. The scope and objective of the recipient audit, as stated in the framework, includes an overview of the specified audit procedures to be performed for the year under review. The framework, however, does not define the expected timeline for each phase of the recipient audit, including planning, execution and reporting, to set clear directions and priorities.

A risk-based approach is used to determine the specified audit procedures based on areas of a contribution agreement deemed the most risky, including the eligibility of expenditures claimed by a recipient and a recipient's compliance with the maximum allowable government funding granted. Reporting and monitoring requirements for audit results and findings requiring management action have also been documented. However, the frequency and ways in which recipient audit progress, results and subsequent management action plans should be discussed and monitored has not been defined.

Recommendation

In absence of a defined timeline for each phase of the recipient audit, recipient audit activities may not be conducted in a timely manner to allow for issues to be identified. Furthermore, if the frequency and ways in which reporting and monitoring of action plans should be performed are not defined, action plans may not be implemented timely or completely to address the identified issues.

To mitigate these potential risks, we recommend the following:

1. The Vice-President of IRAP (VP, IRAP) should coordinate with the Vice President, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer (VP, CS & CFO) to update the framework to include:

  1. The timeline for each phase of the recipient audit, and
  2. The frequency and ways in which audit progress, results and subsequent management action plans are presented and monitored.

    [Priority: Moderate]

4.1.2 Sampling Methodology

IRAP's recipient audit framework incorporates a documented risk-based approach through which contribution agreements with the highest risk rating are selected for increased monitoring. When establishing a contribution agreement between NRC and an eligible recipient, IRAP assigns a financial monitoring requirement (FMR) risk rating of high, medium, low, or waived to the recipient. The FMR is determined based on seven criteria of varying weight, including the recipient's history with NRC and the recipient's capacity for record keeping. The FMR is assigned prior to the signing of each contribution agreement and is used to determine the recipient sample selection. This practice is in line with the TBS Guideline on Recipient Audits' suggested risk management model. It should be noted that an assessment of the FMR rating process was not in scope for our audit.

In addition to the FMR rating, IRAP's recipient audit framework also includes a program-level risk assessment to determine the number of recipient samples to be selected from each of IRAP's programs, including various technology innovation programs and youth employment programs. Programs deemed less risky have a smaller representation in IRAP's number of recipients selected for the audit.

Our audit confirmed that the samples selected for the FY 2015-16 recipient audit were in line with the risk-based approach describe in the recipient audit framework. Based on the number of samples to be selected from each of IRAP's programs, FB-TPAS randomly selects the initial list of recipients to be audited. Additional consideration, based on regional business knowledge gained from working with recipients across Canada on an ongoing basis, is made prior to finalizing the list. Once the recipient sample is final, the independent audit agent (IAA) determines, in consultation with IRAP and FB-TPAS, whether the audit procedures for each recipient will be performed remotely from the IAA office ("desk audit") or on site at the recipient's office ("site audit"). The decision is based on pre-determined risks, including risk of unusual trends in claims or risk of claims submitted in excess of cost eligibility per the contribution agreement. All applicable specified audit procedures are performed on the final sample of recipients selected.

To determine the eligibility of expenditures claimed, a sample of costs claimed by each recipient is reviewed according to their respective contribution agreement. The costs selected for review are based on the expenditure categories outlined in the approved specified audit procedures (e.g. employee salary costs or contractor fees). The number of employees and/or contractors selected for review is supported by sampling guidance provided by the independent audit agent. The specific individuals in each expenditure category are selected non-randomly by the IAA based on their professional judgment. The sample selection process described above has not been fully documented.

A high-level summary of the sampling methodology for testing the eligibility of expenditures has been outlined below in Figure 2, based on our review of the actual sampling approach applied.

Figure 2: Summary of IRAP's sampling methodology

Summary of IRAP's sampling methodology. Long description follows.
Long description of Figure 2

Figure 2 is a process flow chart summarizing the sampling methodology applied to test the eligibility of expenditures. The process flow chart starts with defining the population, which consists of recipients funded in the period under review. Once the population is defined, recipients are randomly selected into samples based on risk and regional business level knowledge. The samples are then categorized into desk audit versus site visit. Within the selected recipients, expenditure selection is conducted by determining the number of individuals to be selected from each expenditure category, then by non-randomly selecting the individuals for review.

 

It should be noted that the individuals in each expenditure category are selected non-randomly, which conflicts with the random sampling approach referred to in the framework. Furthermore, as the audit framework has not clearly defined the intent behind the sampling approach and the expected conclusions to be reached, there is a risk that the results may be misinterpreted. For example, if IRAP intends to make general conclusions on the population based on the audit results, also referred to as extrapolation Footnote 3, the sampling approach must be random throughout all phases of selection regardless of the sample size selected. If IRAP intends to target specific recipients based on professional judgement and pre-determined criteria, non-random sampling should be applied.

According to IRAP's audit framework, the recipient sample size increased from 50 to 72 per year Footnote 4 for the FY 2017-18 recipient audit to align with the "Statistical Sampling of Payment Requisitions" approach recommended by the Finance Community Council. The role of the Financial Community Council is to implement common financial best practices across the federal government. Based on the "Statistical Sampling of Payment Requisitions" approach, statistical sampling must be random throughout all phases of sample selection to allow for extrapolation and the sample size drawn must be representative of the population. For the FY 2017-18 recipient audit, the sample size requirement is satisfied by using the sample size of 72, calculated based on a 95% Confidence Interval Footnote 5, 5% Expected Error Rate Footnote 6, and 5% Precision Interval Footnote 7. As per discussion with the IAA, the current sampling approach does not allow for extrapolation (e.g. total dollar value of overpayments), as the sample selection is not random throughout all phases. It is also important to note that the sole benefit of performing statistical sampling is to provide a statistical conclusion on the population.

Based on interviews with IRAP and Finance Branch, there is no intention for the recipient audit to provide a statistical conclusion. As a result, we were not able to identify the justification for the increase in sample size from 50 to 72 per year for the FY 2017-18 recipient audit, and the resulting incremental cost of approximately $265K Footnote 8. It is important to note that the sampling intent and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit is at the discretion of NRC. Since IRAP has not clearly defined their sampling intent in the audit framework to support their sampling approach, the audit results may be misinterpreted.

Recommendation

In the absence of fully documented sampling procedures, there is a risk of an inconsistent sampling approach being applied. As different applications of sampling procedures have a direct impact on how the audit results can be interpreted, the risk of an inconsistent sampling approach applied, in combination with the absence of a clearly defined intent and expected conclusions to be reached, may lead to misinterpretation of the reported audit results.

To mitigate these potential risks, we recommend the following:

2. The VP, IRAP should:

  1. Clarify the intent and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit, and
  2. Ensure the sampling practice is fully documented and aligned with the intent to support the conclusion and potential management decision to be drawn.

    [Priority: High]

4.2 Recipient Audit Resources

Summary Finding

Internal resources and departmental budget have been allocated to enable IRAP to deliver on its recipient audit responsibilities. However, an opportunity exists to review the responsibilities assigned to key individuals, and adjust if required, to ensure existing resource constraints are addressed.

Our audit sought to confirm that both resources and departmental budget were in place to ensure that IRAP has the capability to deliver on its recipient audit responsibilities. We expected the IAA engaged by NRC to have been selected based on the criteria outlined in the TBS Guideline on Recipient Audits and the work performed by the IAA to be in accordance with the signed statement of work. Furthermore, we expected the IAA to have complete and timely access to the information required to complete the recipient audit, such as IRAP's recipient audit framework and required documentation from recipients.

Observations

The TBS Guideline on Recipient Audits requires that an independent auditor perform the recipient audit. Our audit confirmed that the IAA was selected using the required pre-determined rating criteria and the selection process was coordinated by NRC's Procurement and Contracting Services department. The same IAA was engaged to perform both recipient audits under our review and there were no discrepancies between the audit procedures agreed to in the statement of work, the audit procedures performed and findings provided. Based on our interview with the IAA, there were no issues with the completeness of the information they received from NRC to execute the FY 2015-16 recipient audit.

Internal resources and departmental budget have been allocated to enable IRAP and FB-TPAS to deliver on their recipient audit requirements. Our review confirmed that recipient audit-related responsibilities were documented in key employees' annual Commitment to Excellence (CTE) performance management plans. This documentation of responsibilities in the CTE demonstrated that recipient audit responsibilities were considered and assigned to key individuals.

With the introduction of specified audit procedures for the FY 2015-16 recipient audit, additional time was required to develop the procedures. This resulted in a delay of the delivery of results to NRC by the IAA. Furthermore, additional effort was required by IRAP and Finance Branch to analyze the observations raised by the IAA and compile internal summary reports to provide recommendations for appropriate action. This delay in reporting results from the FY 2015-16 recipient audit has resulted in two years of funding being tested under the current FY 2017-18 recipient audit. This backlog was self-identified by IRAP.

The IAA has committed to implementing mitigation strategies for the current recipient audit to improve timeliness of reporting, some of which include consistency in reporting templates, bi-weekly status meetings with FB-TPAS and enhanced communication strategies in the event of delayed recipient responses. Despite the mitigation strategies implemented, this introduction of specified audit procedures for the FY 2015-16 recipient audit has resulted in an increased workload, thus creating internal resource constraints. Furthermore, while the sample size for the FY 2017-18 recipient audit has increased due to the backlog, additional resources have not been assigned.

Recommendation

The introduction of specified audit procedures for the FY 2015-16 recipient audit has resulted in internal resource constraints. The internal resource constraints, in combination with the increase in the sample size for the FY 2017-18 recipient audit, could result in recipient audit responsibilities not being performed as intended.

To mitigate these potential risks, we recommend the following:

3. The VP, IRAP, in consultation with the VP, CS & CFO, should:

  1. Review resource availability and the associated responsibilities, and
  2. Adjust the responsibilities if required, to ensure all recipient audit responsibilities are fulfilled in a timely manner.

    [Priority: Moderate]

4.3 Reporting and Monitoring Recipient Audit Results

Summary Finding

Recipient audit results and findings are shared with key stakeholders, including IRAP management, Finance Branch and the Departmental Audit Committee (DAC); however, the results of the FY 2015-16 recipient audit were not reported in a timely manner. A mitigation strategy has been initiated to improve the timeliness of reporting for the FY 2017-18 recipient audit.

Management action plans are developed for recipient audit findings requiring attention. IRAP has tools in place to track recommendations and management action plans; however, documented action plans could be enhanced by specifying timelines for completion. Progress against all management action plans should be monitored and updated in the tracking tools.

The audit sought to determine if recipient audit results are measured against clearly defined expectations, shared with the appropriate key stakeholders in a timely manner, and that management action plans are developed for recipient audit findings requiring attention. In an effort to improve business processes, we expected progress against action plans to be monitored and discussed regularly in a timely manner, and lessons learned as a result of recipient audit findings to be documented and shared with IRAP branch staff.

Observations

For the FY 2015-16 recipient audit, the IAA issued individual recipient findings reports as well as one overall recipient audit summary report. IRAP Program Expertise, in collaboration with Finance, completed additional analysis based on the reports received from the IAA and compiled the findings in one internal recipient audit report. The delay in completion of the recipient audit, previously discussed in 4.2, led to a delay in receipt of the final reports from the IAA, and subsequently a delay in the reporting of results to key stakeholders.

The figure below provides an outline of actual and estimated dates of completion for funding provided between FY 2014-15 to FY 2017-18.

Figure 3: Snapshot of the recipient audit progress

Snapshot of the recipient audit progress. Long description follows.
Long description of Figure 3

Figure 3 is a Gantt Chart illustrating the actual and estimated dates of completion for funding provided between FY 2014-15 to FY 2017-18. For funding awarded in FY 2014-15 with the end of fiscal year on 31-03-2015, the IAA recipient audit summary report was received on 30-11-2016 and the NRC recipient audit summary report was received on 09-05-2017. In summary, it took 2.1 years from the end of the fiscal year to the issuance of the first NRC summary report. For funding awarded in FY 2015-16 with the end of fiscal year on 31-03-2016, the IAA recipient audit summary report was received on 30-09-2018 and the NRC recipient audit summary report was still being prepared. In summary, it took 2.5 years from the end of the fiscal year to the estimated end of date of IAA work. IA noted that additional time is required for the issuance of the NRC summary report. For funding awarded in FY 2016-17 with the end of fiscal year on 31-03-2017, the IAA recipient audit summary report was received on 30-09-2018 and the NRC recipient audit summary report was still being prepared. In summary, it took 1.5 years from the end of the fiscal year to the estimated end of date of IAA work. IA noted that additional time is required for the issuance of the NRC summary report. For funding awarded in FY 2017-18 with the end of fiscal year on 31-03-2018, the recipient audit process has not started.

 

As shown in Figure 3, it took 2.1 years from the end of FY 2014-15 to the issuance of the first IRAP internal summary report. To maximize the benefits of the recipient audit, findings should be reported in a timely manner. To achieve this, the recipient audit should be scheduled before the end of the contribution agreement, or at the end of a contribution agreement if it is expected that funding may be provided to the recipient again in the future.

Recipient audit results and findings are shared with key stakeholders of varying management levels within IRAP. Interviews with the regional Executive Director team confirmed that results and findings are shared with them through Senior Leadership Team meetings, as well as via e-mail. IRAP Directors receive updates on the results through IRAP Program Delivery Advisory Committee meetings. Finally, the CFO receives updates on the audit through the presentation provided by IRAP at NRC's DAC meetings.

Findings identified in the recipient audit reports provided by the IAA are assessed by IRAP and FB-TPAS to determine which findings require follow-up. Those requiring attention are highlighted based on clearly defined criteria and key performance indicators outlined in the audit framework. Findings identified as "systemic" are addressed by IRAP Program Expertise, as they may affect many or all recipients. Those specific to individual recipients, such as overpayments and subsequent claim verifications required, are communicated to the respective region for action. IRAP has information technology tools in place to track findings and management action plans for both systemic findings as well as those specific to individual recipients.

While activity updates, implementation status and staff responsible for implementation have been documented in the tracking tools, target dates for completion of action plans have not been specified. Documentation of target completion dates would allow for prioritization of action plans and enhanced accountability for completion. The audit framework also states that FB-TPAS is responsible for monitoring the recovery of overpayments; however, through interviews and file reviews, we confirmed that this is not the current process due to resource constraints. Furthermore, while findings specific to individual recipients are sent to the respective regions for their action and captured in their tracking tools, at the time of our review, progress updates were not documented.

Documenting the frequency and ways in which progress against action plans should be monitored would enhance accountability for the monitoring and oversight of action plan progress. Furthermore, a review of resources and responsibilities would allow for a potential adjustment in responsibility allocation to ensure adequate time is available for action plan follow-up within Finance.

Recommendations

Delays in sharing of the audit results, incomplete action plans and a lack of monitoring of action plan progress could result in deficiencies not being addressed or action plans not being implemented timely or completely.

To mitigate these potential risks, please see Recommendation #1 and #3.

Appendix A: Audit Criteria

Line of Enquiry Audit Criteria
1.0 Governance: Governance structure and processes have been designed and implemented to enable the effective management and delivery of the Recipient Audit Framework.
  • 1.1 The Recipient Audit Framework has been formally documented in alignment with Treasury Board, NRC and other departmental policies, standards and guidelines, including but not limited to expected roles and responsibilities for the planning, execution and reporting of Recipient Audit results.
  • 1.2 The governance structure includes the review and approval of the Recipient Audit Framework and Senior Management updates, as required, to ensure it is in line with changes to NRC's internal and external business environment.
  • 1.3 The Recipient Audit Framework has been disseminated throughout the organization to all appropriate individuals.
2.0 Risk Management: IRAP uses a sound risk-based approach for the development and application of the Recipient Audit Framework.
  • 2.1 The design and implementation of the Recipient Audit Framework applies an approved risk-based approach, which is evident through consistent sample selection and audit procedures.
3.0 Business Controls: IRAP has provided guidance and appropriate resources to fulfill its Recipient Audit responsibilities.
  • 3.1 Resources and departmental budget are allocated to ensure IRAP has the capability to deliver on its recipient audit requirements.
  • 3.2 External Auditors selected by IRAP to complete the recipient audit meet the criteria as outlined in the TBS Guideline on Recipient Audits under the Policy on Transfer Payments and the Directive on Transfer Payments and deliver as per the signed Statement of Work.
  • 3.3 Complete and timely access to relevant information pertinent to the recipient audit is provided to auditors.
4.0 Reporting, Monitoring and Oversight: Recipient audit activities and results are reported in a consistent and timely manner, to support decision-making and provide effective oversight.
  • 4.1 Recipient audit results are shared with the appropriate key stakeholders in a consistent and timely manner.
  • 4.2 Management measures and reports on the results of recipient audits against clearly defined expectations or key performance indicators and provides oversight and guidance, as required.
  • 4.3 Management Action Plans (MAP) are developed for recipient audit findings requiring attention. Implementation of MAPs are monitored and discussed regularly and progress against plans are discussed and challenged, as appropriate.
  • 4.4 Lessons learned as a result of significant issues identified through the recipient audit are documented and shared with IRAP branch staff, in an effort to improve business processes.

Appendix B: Management Action Plan

Definition of Priority of Recommendations
High Implementation is recommended within six months to reduce the risk of potential high likelihood and/or high impact events that may adversely affect the integrity of NRC's governance, risk management and control processes.
Moderate Implementation is recommended within one year to reduce the risk of potential events that may adversely affect the integrity of NRC's governance, risk management and control processes.
Low Implementation is recommended within one year to adopt best practices and/or strengthen the integrity of NRC's governance, risk management and control processes.
Recommendation Corrective Management Action Plan Expected Implementation
Date and Responsible
NRC Contact
  1. The Vice-President of IRAP (VP, IRAP) should coordinate with the Vice President, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer (VP, CS & CFO) to update the framework to include:
    1. The timeline for each phase of the recipient audit, and
    2. The frequency and ways in which audit progress, results and subsequent management action plans are presented and monitored.
    [Priority: Moderate]
The recipient audit framework will be updated to include the timeline for each phase of the recipient audit exercise. Furthermore, the recipient audit framework will explicitly state the frequency and how audit progress, results and subsequent management action plans will be exposed to stakeholders and monitored.

In collaboration between IRAP and CS/CFO, these improvements will be in place for the next round of recipient audits.

Date: March 31, 2019
Contact: VP, IRAP
  1. The VP, IRAP should:
    1. Clarify the intent and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit, and
    2. Ensure the sampling practice is fully documented and aligned with the intent to support the conclusion and potential management decision to be drawn.
    [Priority: High]

The recipient audit framework will be revised to clarify the intent and expected conclusions to be reached from the recipient audit.
The sampling practices will be further documented and aligned with the intent.

These improvements will be in place for the next round of recipient audits. To avoid misunderstanding, IRAP will be clear in communicating results from the current audits.

Date: March 31, 2019
Contact: VP, IRAP
  1. The VP, IRAP, in consultation with the VP, CS & CFO, should:
    1. Review resource availability and the associated responsibilities, and
    2. Adjust the responsibilities if required, to ensure all recipient audit responsibilities are fulfilled in a timely manner.
    [Priority: Moderate]

To ensure that recipient audit responsibilities are fulfilled in a timely manner, IRAP in consultation with VP, CS & CFO will review roles and responsibilities.

IRAP and VP, CS & CFO will assign resources as appropriate to meet recipient audit framework commitments.

These improvements will be in place for the next round of recipient audits.

Date: March 31, 2019
Contact: VP, IRAP