Much of the work at the Army Audit Agency hinges on exercising professional judgment and a commitment to dig deep into the available data to look for outliers or things that don’t add up logically—even when they do numerically. Despite all the guidance and regulations, there are often no unequivocal distinctions or rote step-by-step processes for highly complex and variable performance audits.
The ability to sort through a range of information to figure out what’s important is a crucial phase in the critical‑thinking process—and one that’s integral to the tasks of an auditor. Auditors need to review a lot of information from many sources to even determine what the next step is.
At the most basic level, performance auditing requires a mindset that doesn’t accept things strictly as they seem, but considers what misinformation or errors might skew results. When records don’t match, what can or should be inferred from the conflicting information? What other data points can help resolve the issue? What else do we need to ask or look for?
Critical thinking enables auditors to home in on what’s important, build on their own and others’ experience to identify additional information or omissions, and come to well-reasoned conclusions. Critical thinking is generally defined in terms of the skills below:
- Observation: the ability to notice and predict opportunities, problems, and solutions.
- Analysis: the gathering, understanding, and interpreting of data and other information.
- Inference: Drawing conclusions based on relevant data, information, and personal knowledge and experience.
- Communication: sharing and receiving information with others verbally, nonverbally, and in writing.
- Problem-solving: the process of gathering, analyzing, and communicating information to identify and troubleshoot solutions.