National governments looking to the European Commission to reduce the EU’s spending on administration have found qualified support within the executive’s administration.
Brian Gray, the head of the Commission’s internal audit service (IAS), says that he would be able to find efficiency savings. Asked if a 5% cut in staffing – the level proposed by the college of commissioners last week – was possible, Gray said: “Yes, I should hope so.”
He said he wanted the IAS to spend more of its time on improving efficiency and performance across the Commission.
The IAS this week held a conference to mark its tenth birthday. It was set up in 2001 as part of the reforms to the Commission made in the wake of the allegations of nepotism and corruption that brought down Jacques Santer’s administration in 1999.
The financial-control department was done away with and responsibility for financial transactions was placed on the individual Commission departments. The IAS was then given the task of controlling risk and monitoring compliance, providing opinions on the quality of management and controls, and making recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Commission operations.
At its beginning, because it was born out of crisis, the IAS laid heavy emphasis on compliance with the rules on financial management.
Gray said: “Compliance is, broadly, there.”
He said he wanted to spend more of the IAS’s time on performance audits, to give opinions on the quality of management and to improve efficiency.
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Asked about the risk of excessive or overlapping audits within the Commission administration – both from the IAS and from the internal audit units (“capabilities” or IACs) within each department – Gray said he thought the number was “about enough”. Co-ordination between the IAS and the IACs had also improved, but he conceded, when asked about recruitment, that some of the smaller IACs had difficulty in attracting or retaining staff.
He rejected the suggestion, occasionally voiced inside the Commission, that the IAS is acting too much like an external auditor and is rehearsing the work of the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Admitting that his own background was as an external auditor, Gray said that whereas the ECA looked at the accounts and wanted to know whether everything complied with the financial rules, the IAS was looking at “how management works”. The IAS had, he said, required each department to identify possible risks and how they would manage them.
Although the IAS is often seen by operational departments inside the Commission as an arm of the central services, Gray said that he had his share of disagreements with other parts of the central core – the secretariat-general and the budget department (he was the deputy director-general for budget before moving to head the IAS last year).
He had been pressing for more cross-departmental audits, for instance on the governance of information technology, to reduce the risk that every department was “inventing its own bicycle”.
A working group that brought together senior officials from the operational departments and the IT department was set up at the end of last year to scrutinise the procurement and development of IT systems.
As political pressure grows on the EU to constrain administrative spending, many people, both inside and outside the Commission, will be looking to the IAS to identify savings.