Executing the Hawaii Wildfires Recovery mission as effectively and efficiently as possible requires adherence to processes by each team member regardless of status as an employee or contractor.
Validating those processes and activities rests on the shoulders of auditors like Donna Williams, a supervisory auditor deployed to Maui from the New Orleans District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“We do performance audits to ensure employees and contractors are following the rules and processes that are in place,” said Williams.
One of the methods auditors use to check processes is by conducting statistical sampling of invoices and documentation. The auditor collects the supporting documentation and checks it against invoices to validate that what is reported is accurate.
“It’s important to conduct statistical sampling whenever feasible. Based on a specific error rate, precision and confidence level, we can extrapolate the results of the sample to the entire population.” said Williams.
In statistics a confidence interval is the average of a set of outcomes within a sample, plus or minus the variation in that data set. In statistical sampling the confidence interval is the probability or likelihood that a range of values will occur based upon trends within the data. People often see this as the “plus or minus” a certain percent when news agencies report the results of surveys or polls.
Extrapolation is the second step of the statistical sampling in which auditors can infer the likelihood that reported data is correct across a population based upon their samples.
Williams explained that a common misconception is that auditors approach their work with the goal of highlighting deficiencies.
“We are here to ensure processes are running properly and make recommendations for correcting problems,” said Williams. “Our goal is to identify issues up front, recommend changes and follow up on implementation for the benefit of the taxpayer.”
The USACE has been entrusted with a tremendous responsibility to assist the people of Hawaii with recovery through debris removal, preparation of the temporary school site, and providing temporary emergency power to critical public facilities in the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 8, 2023, wildfires on Maui.
“Auditors help us see ourselves. They bring experience from other emergency response missions, and other areas where teams may struggle to maintain proper records and ensure documentation is properly maintained,” said Col. Jess Curry, Hawaii Wildfires Recovery Field Office Commander, auditors are like mirrors of the organization. “They also make recommendations to leadership and help us leverage lessons learned and best practices from across the enterprise.”
Like mirrors, auditors provide employees with a reflection of their efforts to confirm what’s done right, correct what’s done wrong and prevent future problems.