I spent the majority of my federal career sitting in a cubicle, and these last few years I have ventured out on local travel as well as trips across the county. I have an accounting background, and most of my reviews pertain to financial issues. Since I work for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), my on-site reviews are done at housing authorities and other grantees (like cities) that receive HUD funds. However, these 10 tips for a successful on-site review are fairly broad and hopefully apply regardless of your agency or type of review.
1) Do you our homework. Preparation is key. The preliminary work should be done before traveling so you feel prepared and confident and spend your time efficiently while on-site.
2) Reach out to your peers. If something requires an on-site review, it has probably been on the radar for a while. If someone else in your agency has worked with that customer and can provide you with information or resources, there is no need to duplicate efforts.
3) Provide notification. Just like you need to prepare, your customer needs to prepare as well. Provide ample notice and a detailed scope of your review.
4) Create an agenda. Allocate your time and ensure you cover each objective.
5) Establish rapport. Chances are that your customers aren’t thrilled that you are there. Be polite and remember to thank them for their time. Smile and be approachable, and hopefully people will respond by being helpful and accommodating.
6) Begin with an opening meeting. This is a chance to introduce yourself, meet the people you will be working with, and explain any documentation, resources, or interviews you will need.
7) Focus on interviews. The paperwork (policies, financial statements, etc.) can be reviewed when you get back to the office. Interviews with open-ended questions should be a priority. Compare the responses from the interviews to the customer’s written policies and procedures, your federal agency’s guidelines, and federal regulations.
8) Provide feedback. I don’t want the customer to be surprised by a recommendation or a finding in my report. I would much rather discuss something upon discovery and that way they can immediately begin improving. Also, it’s possible that they can provide more information or an explanation to resolve the issue. However, use conditional language and be careful not to draw conclusions before reviewing all of the information.
9) End with a close-out meeting. Recap your on-site review and discuss any outstanding issues. Remind your customer that you will continue your field work after the on-site review, so there may be additional findings or recommendations included in your report.
10) Don’t procrastinate on writing the report. It is much more efficient to write the report when the on-site visit is fresh in your mind and you can easily sort through all of your notes and documentation. (Just remind me of this tip when I am procrastinating!) An easy acronym to help structure your report is IRAC: Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. Define your issue, identify your rule, perform an analysis based on the facts and applicable rules, and then conclude.
What tips do you have for a successful on-site review?
Nicole Willingham is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.