A Closer Look at the COPS Office: Audit Liaison Division

image of checklistAs a grantee who is administering funding awarded through the COPS Office, an audit could seem like an intimidating and often complex process. In response to audits by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) , the Audit Liaison Division (ALD) (formerly known as the Monitoring and Compliance Division) was established in Fiscal Year 2000 in order to dedicate full-time, committed resources to the COPS audit resolution process and to assist grantees, as well as COPS management and staff, in preparing for audits.

The COPS Office does not conduct audits of their own grants; instead, ALD works internally with program managers and externally with grantees to facilitate closure of audits conducted by the OIG. Not to be confused with the Grant Monitoring Division that conducts grant reviews, ALD assists grantees by providing technical assistance and suggestions on how to respond to the OIG’s questions, among other duties, in order to close an entire report.

"We are there to help," said Audit Liaison’s Senior Management Analyst, Martie Viterito who stresses how ALD will walk grantees through, and break down, the process—"from the entrance conference to the closure of the audit."

Involving ALD from the very first stages, an OIG auditor will notify the COPS Office of an upcoming COPS audit and require COPS program offices to provide documentation and background information. Lines of communication are open between ALD’s staff and the auditors at all times. Once completed, the OIG presents the audit report to ALD and the grantee. Audit Liaison staff then prepare a “tips letter” to grantees providing specific instructions on how to respond to the draft report.

"We have to respond to whatever the OIG finds," said Audit Liaison's Management Analyst, Lashon Hilliard, "to prevent [and detect] fraud, waste, and abuse."

It is the auditors who determine if the grantee is following the conditions of the grant award. If the OIG’s report includes violations of any terms and conditions, they will identify the potential violation and recommend corrective action.

"The OIG tells the grantees specifically what they want," Viterito said. And it is up to the agencies who were audited to provide the appropriate responses and corrections, along with the COPS Office. The Inspector General’s reports include specific findings. For example, a finding of "unsupported costs" would be if a grantee purchased a piece of equipment, but hasn’t provided a receipt. A cited "unallowable cost" finding could include, for instance, an automobile purchased using grant funds specifically prohibited under the conditions and terms of the award.

Not only will the ALD work with the grantee to obtain additional documentation and/or updated agency policies, and prepare corrective action plans, but they are also responsible for recovering any money spent in violation of the grant terms and conditions. During the audit resolution process, grantees have 30 days to provide additional information to the ALD. Once ALD receives the documents from the grantee, ALD analyzes and/or synthesizes the information and provides an update to the OIG along with any supporting documents. The OIG gives ALD 180 days to respond to the OIG’s memoranda, thus allowing ALD to continue working with the grantee in a deliberative effort to remedy any remaining audit findings and ultimately close the audit report.

Assisting with remedying the findings of and ultimately closing the audit report can be a time-consuming process, and although some audits might move along quickly, Hilliard and Viterito noted that others could take months or even years to close, “depending on the complexity and number of recommendations, cooperativeness of the grantee, and turnover in staff in the both the ALD and grantee.” If ALD or the grantee disagrees with the OIG findings, they must explain why and provide rationale and supporting records.

In preparation for an audit and as general best practices in grants administration, Audit Liaison advises grantees to:

  1. Keep records in order, particularly accurate grant expenditure accounts
  2. Be open and honest, since OIG and the COPS Office will be working with them
  3. Ask questions.

Additionally, if a grantee has any suspicions that their funding is not being appropriately allocated, they should stop drawing the money and use the local match, or wait until they receive verification in writing from the COPS Office. Grantees must keep in mind that they are accountable for all government expenditures and should always be prepared to be audited. If a grantee has a question, they should contact their grant program specialist. If the question concerns audits, it will be forwarded to ALD. Other resources include the Grant Owner’s Manual, 2 C.F.R. or Title 2 for Grants and Agreements(http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov), and the Office of Management and Budget’s website for agency standards and guidance, specifically the OMB Circular A-133 for state and local information.

Analytical skills and the ability to articulate well both in writing and orally, enable the Audit Liaison staff to speak in-depth on the audit process to their Federal counterparts in the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), and also enable staff to make multidimensional policies relevant to the grantee’s day-to-day tasks. The audit resolution process requires a meticulous eye for detail. Therefore, an ALD staff member must pay close attention to dates, financial status reports, and program-specific purchases, in addition to internal COPS resources, such as the Grant Monitoring Division’s (GMD) site visit documentation, legal compliance, and IT tools.

Audit Liaison’s employees’ main responsibilities lie in working with grantees and OIG, but also focus on collaborating with other COPS program offices to obtain additional documentation, participating in the vetting process for awarding or closing grants, and running queries and reports for COPS Assistant or Deputy Directors. In addition, the Audit Liaison Division is responsible for facilitating closure of audits conducted by the OIG and Government Accountability Office on the COPS Office’s administration of its grant programs. “We are expected to be good fiduciaries of [United States'] dollars,” Hilliard said.

-Adele Norton
HR Liaison Specialist
The COPS Office

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