The GAO added the word ‘equity’ back into the Yellow Book a few months ago in the technical revision to the 2018 yellow book. Here is one place where it shows up:
1.02 The concept of accountability for use of public resources and government authority is key to our nation’s governing processes. Management and officials entrusted with public resources are responsible for carrying out public functions and providing service to the public effectively, efficiently, economically, ethically, and equitably within the context of the statutory boundaries of the specific government program.
It is another of those ‘e’ words (which also includes economical, efficient, effective, and ethically) that can cause an auditor trouble on an audit.
Why do the e words cause trouble?
Because they are squishy! But they sound soooo good. I mean, who doesn’t want to know if a program is effective, for instance?
The auditor and the auditee will agree initially that an objective that sounds like ‘is X program effective’ is lovely and cool and interesting. But only at the end of the audit when they see the auditor’s results in writing, will the auditee find that they do not agree with the auditors definition of the term.
Equity is also an e word
Equity is another one of the e words where opinions can differ on what it means. In order to succeed with this particular e word, auditors will have to be VERY careful to make sure they don’t confuse the word equitable with equal.
Equal vs. Equitable an example
I imagine that you have been in a large arena for an event… a concert, a game, a circus. You have paid a lot of money to be there and you don’t want to miss anything. But darn it, you have to go to the bathroom.
Now if you are a woman, you have to think very hard about the timing of your visit to the bathroom. Because if you go when all the other women are going, you can easily be gone from your expensive seat for 20 minutes.
If you are a man, you don’t even have to think about timing. You have to go, you go. You get in, you get out. 3 minutes max.
How can this be?
Well, the designers of the arena obviously were seeking equality and not equity. They designed the bathroom so there are an equal number of fixtures in each bathroom. The women’s room is then equal to the men’s room when it comes to the physical layout of the facility and the cost to build the facility.
But what the designers didn’t consider is how equitable the wait time is. They didn’t consider that it takes a woman two-and-a-half times longer in a bathroom than a man. And because of that, one solution would be to provide more fixtures in the women’s bathroom.
A possible objective
If you were auditing the bathrooms at the arena, you would want to be specific about what aspect of equity you are evaluating. You could focus on the wait times and ask, “Are the wait times for the bathroom equitable between men and women?”
I’d also recommend that you get some bench-marking data for other arenas to serve as your criteria.
We can do anything
Isn’t it great how auditors can turn their attention to just about any issue? I love that.
So will someone please audit the equity of wait times in public restroom facilities in airports, schools, theaters, arenas, etc.?
Thanks in advance. I look forward to seeing your report and then feeling awash in gratitude 10 years from now when I don’t have wait in a long line with other frustrated females as we miss seeing our musical heroes play our favorite song.
Yes, I know there are many more much important social issues that an auditor can evaluate in place of an audit of bathroom equity – such as equity in education, housing, employment, healthcare… the list is endless.
Therefore, I’m not holding my breath… although it looks like I’ll continue to have to hold something.