Editorial Note: Dr. Lise Valentine is the Deputy Inspector General for Audit and Program Review for the City of Chicago. As a follow-up to her plenary appearance at the 2018 AAA Public Interest Section Midyear Meeting in Chicago, we asked Lise to respond to four questions.
With our Annual Meeting less than four weeks away, we hope that the quality of Dr. Valentine’s responses will remind our Section members of the value of our intellectual content. You are welcome to join us at our Section Business Meeting, at the Ethics Symposium, and at our research presentation sessions during the Annual Meeting in order to enjoy more such content.
(1) How much control do you maintain over defining your own audit and investigatory priorities? Are they strictly defined by statute and regulation? Or do you enjoy some latitude in applying resources where you believe they would do the most good?
Our jurisdiction, which is established by the Chicago Municipal Code, extends to all employees and elected officers of City of Chicago government performing their official duties, as well as contractors providing goods or services to the City. Interestingly, although City Council voted in 2016 to place itself under our jurisdiction, it limited our oversight authority—we have the power to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by aldermen and their staffs, but we may not audit their activities.
With respect to City entities under our jurisdiction, we have complete control over our audit and investigatory priorities. Our investigative staff receives and triages tips from the public, and we often open cases on the Inspector General’s own initiative. Each year we publish an audit plan identifying potential projects selected using our prioritization criteria. We thus have great freedom, but also great responsibility to apply our resources where we believe they will best promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency in City operations.
(2) To what extent has budget pressures changed the nature of your procedures? Do you ever feel pressure to “find money,” as taxation authorities in certain jurisdictions are sometimes asked to do?
As a watchdog for the taxpayers, we take very seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of public funds. We apply the same critical eye to our own spending that we do to other departments; the sort of pressure you describe is primarily self-imposed. While we’re not a revenue-generating function, our audits and investigations often identify savings opportunities or result in restitution of City funds.
Pursuant to the Municipal Code, our annual budget is no less than 0.14% of the total City budget. This funding floor largely insulates us from budget cuts. However, we don’t have complete freedom. Our line-item budget is subject to City Council approval, and we cannot fill vacant positions without approval from the Mayor’s budget office.
(3) What kind of student should consider a career in the public sector? How can professors identify such students, and how should we encourage them to consider exploring such opportunities?
Students who are more motivated by mission than by money are the best candidates for the public sector. While a public sector career won’t make you rich, you will generally have a reliable middle-class income and you’ll be serving the greater good. We all need and use government services—from ambulances to expressways to economic policy—and we all pay taxes. So, proper accounting for these expenditures and revenues, and their accurate reporting, is in everyone’s interest.
All levels of government need accounting and finance experts who will safeguard our shared public assets and promote economy and efficiency in governmental operations. Of course, no job is perfect; everyone has some bad days at work. But in a public sector career you can get through those days by remembering the positive contribution you are making to society.
Governments don’t spend money on advertising and recruiting the way accounting firms do. Professors play the critical role of helping to bring these public service career options to their students’ attention, since they may not even know the jobs exist. Professors can invite public sector accounting professionals to speak to their classes. They can reach out to professional organizations like the Government Finance Officers Association, the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers, or the Association of Local Government Auditors to solicit speakers and collect information on internships or jobs.
For example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Government Accounting Standards Board have excellent intern and fellowship programs. Students should also consider following @ChicagoOIG on Twitter or connecting with the Office of Inspector General on LinkedIn, where our office regularly posts job vacancies. We also publish reports and promote our work, which helps students better understand what we do and discover that they may want to be a part of it. Our office regularly recruits interns, for both legal and IT roles, so be sure to visit our website for those details.
(4) Why did you leave the academic world for your current position? Was it more of a personal decision, or a professional one? And do you ever miss the opportunity to teach and to engage in research?
It was more of a professional decision. During my five-year Ph.D. program I had the good fortune to publish a single-authored article in a major journal, to design and teach 10 stand-alone courses, and to serve on several committees. I appreciated having these experiences while still a student because they made me realize I didn’t want an academic career. To be frank, I burned out on undergraduate teaching and I wasn’t motivated by the publishing race.
But my love for learning, teaching, and service persisted. Happily, my current role provides me with ample opportunities to teach and train others, to research ways to improve government, and to serve on committees working to advance OIG and the profession. What I miss most about academia is roving the real and virtual library stacks, marveling at all there is to know.
Dr. Lise Valentine is Deputy Inspector General for Audit and Program Review for the City of Chicago. To support the Inspector General’s mission, her office conducts independent evaluations of municipal programs and operations, and makes recommendations to strengthen and improve public services. She has taught Public Finance for the Master’s in Public Administration Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is an instructor for the Inspector General Institute®.
Prior to joining OIG, Valentine served as Vice President and Director of Research at the Civic Federation, a non-partisan governmental research organization, where she led research on government efficiency, transparency, and tax policy. She was elected to the post of Commissioner and Treasurer of the Park District of Oak Park, IL and served on advisory task forces for the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.
Dr. Valentine is a Certified Public Accountant, a Certified Internal Auditor, and a Certified Inspector General Auditor®.