Author ORCID Identifier

0000-0001-9494-2709

Date of Award

Summer 8-1-2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Public Management and Policy

First Advisor

John C. Thomas

Second Advisor

Benedict Jimenez

Third Advisor

Marc Holzer

Fourth Advisor

Mark Funkhouser

Abstract

Performance auditing is a systematic and independent assessment of public agencies’ faithful, effective, efficient, and equitable implementation of public programs. Since its origins a half-century ago, performance auditing has spread to a broad range of U.S. governments and become acknowledged for its potential contributions to performance improvement, decision making, and accountability. Despite its growth, the literature on performance auditing has been thin, with little attention paid to theory development, statistical modeling, and hypothesis testing.

The dissertation addresses four questions based on an original survey of local government auditors. First, what do performance auditing offices in local governments look like in terms of such basic characteristics as size, the form of government, and degree of independence? What factors could facilitate or impede performance audit effectiveness? Are the resources dedicated to performance auditing, as some experts suggest, drastically declining? Finally, does independence make a difference in performance auditing resource changes?

The results show that performance auditing is well-institutionalized and extends to more than 150 cities and counties. Performance auditing effectiveness may be determined by structural factors and factors related to professional proficiency and stakeholder engagement. Performance auditing effectiveness is likely to be higher when auditors are more independent, engage their governing body and executive management in the audit process, and receive adequate training. However, a council-manager form of government is negatively associated with performance auditing effectiveness, suggesting potential conflict in the auditor-manager relationship.

Contrary to some expert assertions, the results also show that performance auditing resources have not declined. Independence appears to reduce the ability of performance auditing agencies. Performance auditors may professionally compete with local government managers or pursue objectives at odds with the desires of politicians, who respond by limiting auditors’ budgets and staff.

These findings have implications for strengthening performance auditors’ oversight and performance improvement roles, especially under the current austere contexts where governments are pressured to provide high-quality services with constrained budgets and downsized staff.

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