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Blessing in disguise: Tinker Area Audit Office

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- They've been likened to number crunchers, but the Air Force Audit Agency personnel at Tinker are more than that. They are also researchers, inspectors and consultants educated in nearly every aspect of Tinker, the Air National Guard unit at Will Rogers World Airport and Altus Air Force Base, Okla.

Made up of 30 auditors and one administrative staffer, the agency assesses Air Force financial and process operations at the three locations.

"We give commanders throughout the Air Force, at all levels, an unbiased and unrestrained look at their processes and procedures to give them an idea of how well they're doing, as well as providing a suggestion on how things could be better if actions were taken," said Robert Shelby, Tinker Area Audit Office chief. "We look at processes, we don't look at people. We're here to help."

Initially introduced as the 1030th United States Air Force Auditor General Group, the agency has a rich history spanning nearly 62 years. The latest name change and organizational restructure occurred in February 1991 when the Air Force Audit Agency was deemed a field operating agency.

The agency has more than 800 members in 50 locations, but ultimately reports to headquarters in Washington, D.C. Divided into three regions, the Tinker office is part of the Acquisition and Logistics Audit region, which is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Tinker office issues roughly 50 audit reports each year. Audits are typically assigned as centrally directed or locally initiated, addressing an Air Force-wide program mandate or a local interest. When an audit is scheduled for a unit, the auditor must first ensure there are no personal ties with that organization to ensure an independent review. Then the individual starts the process.

For instance, Mr. Shelby said if an auditor has been assigned to audit the inventory of widgets in a supply area and ensure the number is correct, that individual will develop the objectives and take a sample. If there appears to be an issue, the auditor will begin the process. Auditors may look at a listing of supply locations and the number of items that are supposed to be in the inventory, plus count and examine why errors happen.

"We use a systematic methodology for analyzing performance, processes, procedures and activities with the goal of highlighting organizational problems and recommending solutions," said auditor Bala Aurobindo. He has been with the Tinker office for the past five years.

When finished with an audit, auditors will create a report and offer solutions to fix the issue such as making sure all assigned processes are completed or else parts could be lost, Mr. Shelby said.

While an organization may not always see the benefit of an audit, officials said the agency saves the Air Force money and pays for itself.

Mr. Shelby said last year Tinker's office had $168 million of potential savings. Air Force-wide, the agency saved $4.3 billion, which breaks down to a return on investment savings of $51.20. Meaning, for every dollar spent on the agency, the agency saved the government $51.20.

"I would imagine that being an auditor can sometimes be a thankless role, but I have seen the positive impact of the work they do," said Col. Scott Forest, 552nd Air Control Wing vice commander. "Several functional areas and teams in our wing have been made better because of the work that auditors have performed and the feedback they have provided to America's Wing."

Maj. Ryan Mahoney, 72nd Comptroller Squadron commander, agreed.

"The audit agency is a critical piece to Team Tinker's mission because they provide unbiased, independent looks into how business is conducted and taxpayer dollars are spent," he said. "Their contributions are invaluable through their continual efforts to find a better way of accomplishing our missions or identifying and proposing fixes to problems we may not readily notice."

Additionally, the auditors said they enjoy their work and the contributions they make to the Air Force.

"I like the variety of audit projects, the ability to work independently and the process identification and report writing aspects required by the audit process," said John Tulp, an auditor who's been with the Tinker office 14 years. He also served as an auditor for the Army Audit Agency for seven years before working for the Air Force.

Auditor Taylor Lamar who's been with the Tinker office for the past two years agreed.

"I enjoy the fact that being an auditor is a constant learning process, and for the most part you never do the same thing over and over again," he said. "Each audit brings on a new topic, and new challenges."