هویت های حسابرس بخش دولتی در ایجاد ممیزی بهره وری: دفتر حسابرسی ملی دانمارک به عنوان حسابرس مستقل و مدرنیته
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی||تعداد کلمات|
|8582||2009||17 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید||محاسبه نشده|
Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 34, Issue 8, November 2009, Pages 971–987
This paper examines how the National Audit Office of Denmark (NAOD) manoeuvred in making the Danish military receptive to a performance-accountability project in the period 1990–2007. Evidence is provided from a detailed case study, where the actions of the auditors have been followed in their efforts to make the military activities auditable by focusing on the multiple and dynamic interactions between them, the auditee and others. This study contributes to our understanding of how auditors manoeuvre with their performance audit devices in different ways to make efficiency auditable. It appears that as the auditee initiated the implementation of a new accounting system called DeMars a stream of overflows threatened to destabilise it. Groups within the auditee were eager to put heat into the overflowing. This study illuminates how the auditors, equipped with their devices of purification in the later stages of the project, helped at least provisionally to contain the overflows and stabilize the construction. Due to such different manoeuvres by the auditors, this paper demonstrates the problems that emerge when state auditors manoeuvre in performance auditing with identities both as ‘modernizers’, i.e., participating in providing the reasons for change and defining its designs and as ‘independent auditors’, i.e., to legitimize the construction in which they participated themselves. Many allies to the auditors worked hard in protecting the NAOD as the two identities conflicted with each other during the execution of the project.
In consequence of New Public Management (Hood, 1995) and the emergence of performance auditing as an increasingly influential force in the public sector, numerous Auditors’-General Offices have sought to ensure that their activities are consistent with, and supportive of, public sector reforms (Funnell, 2003, Gendron et al., 2001, Gendron et al., 2007, Guthrie and Parker, 1999, Power, 1997 and Power, 2003a). Thus, auditors came to realize that they need to engage more closely with the auditee (Pollitt, 2003 and Power, 2003a). Such engagement has contributed to a drift in the activities of public sector auditors increasingly becoming involved with policy making, which is not without its problems (Gendron et al., 2001). Later Gendron et al. (2007) analysed the strategies of auditors to become recognized as possessing expertise aligned to NPM and Funnell (2003) described the conditional influence of audit from a case where the NSW Auditor-General Office was criticised when engaging in performance auditing. Pollitt (2003, p. 159) noted that there are great variations in the degree to which performance auditors consult with auditees and concluded that we need to know more about how Audit Offices develop their roles. Despite these significant contributions little is still known of accounting processes in action (Burchell, Clubb, Hopwood, & Huges, 1980) and in particular of what kind of manoeuvres auditors become engaged in when being in action (Power, 2003a and Robson et al., 2007). This paper seeks to further contribute to our knowledge on how performance auditors manoeuvre when being in action. More specifically, it turns attention to how the National Audit Office of Denmark (NAOD; hereafter, the “Office”) became involved in a specific project to make public sector efficiency auditable in the Danish Defence Forces (DDFs). It illuminates the actions and what it means in terms of their identities when seeking to initiate and stabilize, a performance-accountability project called DeMars. This research is based upon a detailed and processual case study of an implementation that heavily involved the Office for more than 18 years and caused a lot of heated debates also in the press. As such, this case offers excellent opportunities to study how the Office manoeuvres (i.e. acting) with shifting and conflicting identities as ‘independent auditor’ and ‘modernizer’. The ‘modernizer’ identity characterizes the role of the Office as one of change agents that seeks to gain ground for change and to influence the designs of the consequent accounting system. The ‘independent auditor’ identity characterizes the role of the Office as one that manoeuvred to purify the system that it has itself participated to develop. This paper is concerned with understanding how the Office manoeuvred with these identities in protracted and heated processes of making the project at all feasible. To anchor performance audit knowledge in the auditee’s accounting systems, it involves processes to generate an actor-network of innovation: These moments constitute the different phases of a general process called translation, during which the identity of actors, the possibility of interaction and the margins of manoeuvre are negotiated and delimited (Callon, 1986, p. 203). Innovation involves the construction of a network of entities that are enrolled to support the innovation in various ways. During such processes the entities – such as the auditors – and their margins of manoeuvre and identities are also negotiated and delimited. The auditors become a part of translations, where network partners such as the auditee, the parliament and other government units participate in negotiating and delimiting their identity. Thus, it is demonstrated in this case that the collective efforts of making things auditable involves negotiations of the auditors’ identities and their manoeuvres as to what they can do, and what they cannot do. This is seen in relation to three themes; ‘making new things auditable’, ‘the identities of auditors’ and ‘auditor reports as devices of purification’. The findings of this paper are significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, it contributes to the growing literature on how Audit Offices in various countries engage in performance auditing or other NPM reforms. It does so by providing a detailed and processual case study of how the auditors participated in the production of making a specific accounting innovation at all feasible. Secondly, it provides insights into the manoeuvres of auditors to anchor their knowledge base (i.e. costing principles) in the auditee’s accounting systems. Thirdly, it develops knowledge about how the identities of the Office, the auditee and others are interrelated with one another during programme execution, especially paying attention to the obstacles and overflowing of the execution. Finally, it contributes by providing insights into how performance audit reports are developed to facilitate different purposes during the execution. This paper is organized as follows. Section two next discusses the literature on performance auditing and making the public sector auditable and presents actor-network theory for the study of auditors’ manoeuvrability. Before starting up the analysis, the case based method is outlined. The following section describes the organizational and historical context of the DDF and ends up outlining the major events of the DeMars project. Then, in four subsections, the story of how the DDF’s military activities were made auditable is told with a specific emphasis on the auditors’ manoeuvring in the network. Finally, the findings of the analysis are summarised and related to extant debates in the literature and implications for future research are discussed.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Much has been written about auditing and audit work. However, few studies have set out to follow the auditors in action and in practical settings. This paper set out to study auditors in action and addressed the question of how do they manoeuvre in various stages of the work to make an accountability project at all feasible. I relate the description of this task to three interrelated themes in the audit literature. Making “new” things auditable The literature on auditing and especially that on making “new” things auditable (Power, 2003a), such as the efficiency of the public sector, has grown modestly within the last decade or so to study how such activity is made possible. In the study by Gendron et al. (2007) it is shown how the public sector auditors developed a strategy to become recognized as central in performance measurement. From the present study it appeared that the Danish Office developed a similar interest, by participating in the initiation of a project to make the DDF’s ‘efficiency’ auditable. It did so by configuring its audit reports to facilitate purposes of problematization. In a number of audit reports they criticised the DDF’s accounting systems and pointed to the lack of capability to calculate unit costs as a measure of efficiency. But problematization was not limited to the auditors. A couple of instigating officers within the DDF created a network in which the Office became an important actor and ally. As these two actors worked in concert to initiate the innovation, they made strong references to the knowledge base of ‘efficiency’ in terms of the MoF and its SØS-publications as a means of claiming legitimacy. But to get the green light to initiate the innovation, the instigators, and in this case, the Office had to mobilise the law of the Office (S.18) which makes it compulsory for the auditee to identify necessary measures (reforms). This exhibits the important finding that at least in a Danish context it is within such a refined socio-technical audit framework that the auditee is constructed as an entity, who needs to be innovative and made receptive to the audit knowledge base. This adds nuances to Power’s (1996) description of how it is that consultants are the new policy makers of the public sector. The present case illustrates that it is rather the Office and MoF that together act as policy makers and the ones that make the auditee receptive. In addition to the auditors’ efforts in defining the auditee in a role to change, the auditee also succeeded in constructing the Office as an enrollee into the emergent construction of innovation. They did so by establishing various committees and presenting plans and intentions to the Office and other bodies before deciding to take action. In further actions relating to all the four moments of making an innovation successful, the Office became enrolled to help the DDF and the government to turn the innovation (DeMars) into a success. In this way, the problematization activity was extended to further involve the Office in the execution of the innovation. This also generated problems in terms of a lack of independence to which I return below. Meanwhile, I turn attention to the insights into the disorder, in terms of overflowing, created by the innovation. Instead of theorising disorder as ‘unintended consequences’ or ‘side-effects’, the present case illustrates how a whole range of overflows emerged and how they influenced the constructions while DeMars was being developed and framed in particular ways. In terms of framing, a significant project to develop a large IT-system has been initiated. From the very beginning, many officers were sceptical of the whole project. As the project commenced, almost all officers in the DDF had been enrolled to perform the role as a ‘manager’ in recording their activities and results, thus making budgets and accounts operate functionally. The system defined officers in a role where they should participate in meetings with auditors from the Office and auditors and controllers of the DDF. In such encounters officers were expected to discuss the issues of recording, performance and measurement. The technologies defined the officers to perform towards accountants, auditors and superior managers as audiences. For officers to perform with success in such situations requires accounting skills in order to be in touch with the accounting and audit framework organizing these encounters. In these encounters, much overflowing was generated. Among such overflowing was early scepticism of officers with respect to at least six issues. Their concerns were first, the difficulty of defining relevant cost objects; second, the use of too much money on such a project; third, the problems of the consultants and other systems designers to make things work; fourth, problems that suddenly seemed to be overwhelming by the actors who felt these problems were impossible to solve; fifth, recognition by officers that, in manoeuvring with the hybrid identity doing administrative work, they would lead attention away from their warrior identity exercising leadership in training soldiers and engaging in combat; and finally, that the risk management system itself paradoxically generated overflows. All such overflows recurrently created heated debates inside and outside the DDF and some officers engaged themselves in bringing forth the descriptions of such problems to the press thus adding dynamics to the project. New actions were taken to try to handle such overflowing in terms of refining the constructions. This comprised action to improve the manuals, the training, the categories in the software, etc. in potentially endless sets of actions. Some such instances can be labelled ‘unintended consequences’ but not the resistance of officers. As much as we can talk about ‘intentions’, officers must be seen to be intentionally trying to resist the construction by leaking information to the press and trying to put pressure on the spokespersons. Such actions were quite unexpected by the instigators and other proponents. The identity troubles of the officers (see also Skærbæk & Thorbjørnsen, 2007) can also with meaning be talked about as a “side-effect”. But the definition of the proper identity as hybrid ‘warrior and manager’ must be seen to be a direct consequence of the very construction in terms of problematization and the technologies under construction. Therefore, to make things auditable including by ‘norm’ as Callon (1998b) would say, involves the generation of overflowing and certain activities generated to contain those overflows within the framing. As overflows are generated, substantial efforts and frequently substantial investments are made to secure stabilisation and hinder the collapse of the construction. The notion of overflowing informs us that constructions such as accounting innovations can and will at any time generate overflows as the construction performs to wider sets of audiences being enrolled in certain roles, or more broadly, the public. If overflows are not handled, they come to threaten the construction. As I will develop in the next section, experts such as auditors can be of particular help to handle overflowing in order to screen out obstacles for the enrolled actors who are manoeuvring with different identities and interests. Auditor reports as devices of purification In his important study, Pentland (1993) points out that the processes of financial audit can transform financial statements of corporate management into trustworthy publications that produce comfort for the public. In this way, he drew attention to how audit can create financial order by purifying the statements made by corporate management. Later, Power (1996) called attention to the wider processes of making this possible. He characterizes the processes to establish a knowledge base and make the environment receptive to it as fact building which involves several experts including auditors. For instance, he points out that the socializing processes of auditors can be seen as a form of “institutionalised purification”. To complement these contributions, the present study shows how performance auditors of the Office became involved in activity not to merely purify the DDF’s annual financial statement but also to purify the technical functioning of the developed accounting systems and the ad hoc statements made by DDF management on whether the approved budget for the innovation had been met. On several occasions, the Office was ordered by the PAC to conduct audit reviews of the DeMars, it has itself been a part of. But how can we understand the work of purification to participate in making the accounting innovation feasible? The reports were launched in moments where sceptical officers were going public with the criticisms of the ways in which the systems worked and did not work. Some officers informed critical journalists so as to then heat the situation by involving MPs of the Finance Committee operating with the identity as ‘investors’. In such situations, under attack as being ‘bad investors’ they called upon the PAC to order the Office to perform audits and to provide independent and objective information on what is “right or wrong” in a codifying practice of purification. As the case shows, the reports by the Office succeeded in various episodes in silencing the MPs by providing the conclusions that the information circulating in the press was wrong, and that DeMars was technically and financially sound. We usually expect purification to be an activity that erases the mess of relations, but in this instance it just did not happen. Some MPs and a associate professor in computer science criticised the Office for not being independent, but this debate ceased. Several allies to the Office gathered together and worked to protect the Office. This instance is quite a contrast with regard to other jurisdictions – notably in Australia (Funnell, 1998 and Funnell, 2003) there the performance auditors became heavily criticised as they took steps to collect government working documents as part of the audit. This contrast demonstrates that both performance auditing and the ways the auditors can manoeuvre are very much dependent on a variety of related actors and their relations in the actor-network. We are thus brought to the issues of the Office’s power and influence. Power (1996) points out that audit is powerful but not monolithic. The present case illustrates that power lies in networks, hence that power is relational just as are the identities of the participating actors. To say this also means that audit can be more or less powerful but never achieve perfection since it is a process of negotiation with network partners. Of importance in this process, even though the Office’s audit reports produced comfort (to the instigating actors, the parliament and the management of DDF and the broad public), we should not forget the sceptical officers who were in this process ignored and not listened to. They were excluded from the negotiations and did not feel comfortable. Pentland (1993) and Power (2003) are right when noting that audit produces comfort and legitimacy but, like Justesen and Skærbæk (2005), the outcome of audits may also produce discomfort among the employees of the auditee. The troubles, here theorised as overflowing, that the officers felt when operating with the hybrid identity of ‘warrior and manager’ were ignored and imply that the officers are going to live with such discomfort for several years to come. In moments of being in military combat, such troubles may increase dramatically but in more peaceful times and locations such troubles may be less significant to them. However, the purifying effect may also be that officers came to realize that working against the innovation was a waste of time and instead they resolved to live with it. But even though audit produces comfort, it is always less than perfection. If we listen to Callon (1998b), discomfort in terms of overflowing must be considered to be the norm rather than the exception. I agree with Power (2003b) that more attention should be drawn to the impact of audit on the auditee. But it could be added that attention to discomfort in terms of overflowing and emerging concerned groups (Callon, 2003 and Skærbæk and Tryggestad, in press) could prove as interesting in terms of what audit produces. In conclusion, this case study provides evidence that audit can not only purify financial statements, but also purify broader organizational arrangements as also Strathern (2006) suggests. But such actions also have implications in terms of the identity of the auditors as discussed below. The identities of auditors In an early article, Power (1996) briefly refers to how the processes of auditing have consequences for the “professional” identity of the auditor. This observation was developed recently by Robson et al. (2007) on how auditors’ engagement with new business areas had implications for their professional identity. The present study extends these insights by illuminating the dynamic processes of how auditor identity is negotiated and delimited when being put into action. From the case it appeared that the Office at the very early moments of the innovation, set out to problematize the DDF’s accounting systems in terms of their inability to calculate unit costs as a measure of efficiency. In doing so they made references to a knowledge base, which had obvious links to the government’s modernization programme. Also in the Office’s public communication it appeared explicitly that it “contributes” to an efficient administration. With congruity in the problematization of the DDF’s activities and the Office’s public communication on their webpage, the identity of ‘modernizer’ and the aspirations to modernize the administration, emerged. Whereas in the private sector auditors are frequently being criticised for consulting sold on the back of audit engagements, in the present case this is not exactly the same issue. The issue here is more complex. The Office could not carry on without some instigators inside the DDF. Their simultaneous identity as ‘independent auditor’ delimits them from making the legal act to get the green light from the parliament to initiate the accountability project. However, by establishing close links, for instance, in participating formally in steering group meetings and other meetings, the Office became part of the network. In this, the Office did not just perform work of problematization but it also participated with their audit reports being constructed to circulate ‘independent’ assessments and criticisms which smoothly developed into the provision of advice. When overflows were emerging in terms of technical problems and resistance of officers, the Office participated in processes attempting to solve the problems and to suggest further designs of the devices of interessement and to ease enrolment of the officers. From the very start, the Office’s manoeuvres as ‘modernizer’ created debates. As the Finance Committee considered its approval of the statute, the PAC asked the Auditor-General to make a statement of how it had participated in preparing the statute. Even though such a statement has not been published it demonstrates the conflicts between being simultaneously a ‘modernizer’ and an ‘independent auditor’. These conflicts escalated in later processes when the Office was called in to evaluate the whole project. In this way, the present study is a confirmation of Gendron et al.’s (2001) argument that auditors cannot claim to behave with independence when they are involved in something which comes close to proactive consultancy activity. But in contrast to their study this case shows that even though it became an issue in overall terms, the negotiations did not lead to the Office being formally or publicly criticised by the PAC or other parliamentary units. They succeeded in operating with the two identities even though it was not without problems. The conflicting identities became an overflow in itself, which created the need for unexpected actions, for instance, to end further debate. As already mentioned, this study shows that influential entities define their interests to be aligned with NAOD as modernizer. Indeed there is a need to remind society of how to eliminate the expectation gap as pointed out by Gendron et al. (2001) and Everett, Green, and Neu (2005). But part of the explanation as to how performance auditing seems to be stabilised, and not to address the gap, is that the Office helps the parliament to demonstrate a vitality of democracy by modernizing it and maintaining a formal rationality as is also stressed by Radcliffe (1999). The fact that the Office was able to handle the overflows generated by the DeMars-project, contributes to establishing order in the DDF, in State and thereby parliament. As it appears it seems like the Danish Office has succeeded in convincing the spokespersons who speak on behalf of society, of its expertise. This finding confirms the findings of Gendron et al. (2007) in a Canadian context. According to Power (2003b, p. 199) “It should be recognized that a certain degree of auditor dependence on the auditee is desirable and necessary”, but it is difficult to anticipate where the limit to ‘a certain degree’ may be, as is also pointed out by Bowerman, Humphrey, and Owen (2003). In this case, the Office and the MoF were committed to make the DDF produce a ‘business case’ for a radical implementation of the performance-accountability project. In such a situation, the Office might be tempted to enter a closer relationship with the auditee than in other less ambitious situations. The auditor’s manoeuvrability appears to be conditioned by the situations and the unexpected events that they face. Sometimes, the independence claim is a resource to the auditors, and in other situations, it is a constraint. However, at least in the Danish DDF context there seem to be strong forces that help to handle the dependency overflow when it arises in the processes of auditors participating in making things auditable. In future research, how the identities of various groups of people within the auditee are reconfigured in audit processes should attract more attention. This research saw it in relation to the processes of an accounting innovation, but how the auditee develops strategies to avoid being blamed in audits could also prove interesting. Even though Power (2003b) emphasises that much has been written on auditors and auditing and therefore argues that we need to know more about the auditee, still little is known about how the organizational identities of audit offices are reconfigured in action, especially as they carry out performance audits. To follow their manoeuvres in the many different networks that they become part of can provide additional insights into how auditors’ and their network partners’ identity aspirations are threatened in various episodes, and how they work to overcome such situations. In relation to some of the performance auditing reports here theorised as devices of purification, I agree with Chua (2007, p. 409) that it proves interesting to study ‘how inscriptions are made up and given meaning’. I would add that performance auditors are also involved with making up inscriptions that in various episodes are put into circulation among a variety of audiences to reconfigure their identities.