Ethical Principles


The ethical principles presented in this section provide the foundation, discipline, and structure, as well as the environment, that influence the application of GAGAS.13


Because auditing is essential to government accountability to the public, the public expects audit organizations and auditors who perform their work in accordance with GAGAS to follow ethical principles. Management of the audit organization sets the tone for ethical behavior throughout the organization by maintaining an ethical culture, clearly communicating acceptable behavior and expectations to each employee, and creating an environment that reinforces and encourages ethical behavior throughout all levels of the organization. The ethical tone maintained and demonstrated by management and personnel is an essential element of a positive ethical environment for the audit organization.


Performing audit work in accordance with ethical principles is a matter of personal and organizational responsibility. Ethical principles apply in preserving auditor independence,14 taking on only work that the audit organization is competent to perform,15 performing high-quality work, and following the applicable standards cited in the audit report. Integrity and objectivity are maintained when auditors perform their work and make decisions that are consistent with the broader interest of those relying on the audit report, including the public.


Other ethical requirements or codes of professional conduct may also be applicable to auditors who conduct engagements in accordance with GAGAS. For example, individual auditors who are members of professional organizations or are licensed or certified professionals may also be subject to ethical requirements of those professional organizations or licensing bodies. Auditors employed by government entities may also be subject to government ethics laws and regulations.


The ethical principles that guide the work of auditors who conduct engagements in accordance with GAGAS are

  1. the public interest;

  2. integrity;

  3. objectivity;

  4. proper use of government information, resources, and positions; and

  5. professional behavior.

The Public Interest


The public interest is defined as the collective well-being of the community of people and entities that the auditors serve. Observing integrity, objectivity, and independence in discharging their professional responsibilities helps auditors serve the public interest and honor the public trust. The principle of the public interest is fundamental to the responsibilities of auditors and critical in the government environment.


A distinguishing mark of an auditor is acceptance of responsibility to serve the public interest. This responsibility is critical when auditing in the government environment. GAGAS embodies the concept of accountability for public resources, which is fundamental to serving the public interest.



Public confidence in government is maintained and strengthened by auditors performing their professional responsibilities with integrity. Integrity includes auditors performing their work with an attitude that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, and nonideological with regard to audited entities and users of the audit reports. Within the constraints of applicable confidentiality laws, regulations, or policies, communications with the audited entity, those charged with governance, and the individuals contracting for or requesting the engagement are expected to be honest, candid, and constructive.


Making decisions consistent with the public interest of the program or activity under audit is an important part of the principle of integrity. In discharging their professional responsibilities, auditors may encounter conflicting pressures from management of the audited entity, various levels of government, and other likely users. Auditors may also encounter pressures to inappropriately achieve personal or organizational gain. In resolving those conflicts and pressures, acting with integrity means that auditors place priority on their responsibilities to the public interest.



Auditors’ objectivity in discharging their professional responsibilities is the basis for the credibility of auditing in the government sector. Objectivity includes independence of mind and appearance when conducting engagements, maintaining an attitude of impartiality, having intellectual honesty, and being free of conflicts of interest. Maintaining objectivity includes a continuing assessment of relationships with audited entities and other stakeholders in the context of the auditors’ responsibility to the public. The concepts of objectivity and independence are closely related. Independence impairments affect auditors’ objectivity.16

Proper Use of Government Information, Resources, and Positions


Government information, resources, and positions are to be used for official purposes and not inappropriately for the auditors’ personal gain or in a manner contrary to law or detrimental to the legitimate interests of the audited entity or the audit organization. This concept includes the proper handling of sensitive or classified information or resources.


In the government environment, the public’s right to the transparency of government information has to be balanced with the proper use of that information. In addition, many government programs are subject to laws and regulations dealing with the disclosure of information. Exercising discretion in using information acquired in the course of auditors’ duties is an important part in achieving this balance. Improperly disclosing any such information to third parties is not an acceptable practice.


Accountability to the public for the proper use and prudent management of government resources is an essential part of auditors’ responsibilities. Protecting and conserving government resources and using them appropriately for authorized activities are important elements of the public’s expectations for auditors.


Misusing the auditor position for financial gain or other benefits violates an auditor’s fundamental responsibilities. An auditor’s credibility can be damaged by actions that could be perceived by an objective third party with knowledge of the relevant information as improperly benefiting an auditor’s personal financial interests or those of an immediate or close family member; a general partner; an entity for which the auditor serves as an officer, director, trustee, or employee; or an entity with which the auditor is negotiating concerning future employment.

Professional Behavior


High expectations for the auditing profession include complying with all relevant legal, regulatory, and professional obligations and avoiding any conduct that could bring discredit to auditors’ work, including actions that would cause an objective third party with knowledge of the relevant information to conclude that the auditors’ work was professionally deficient. Professional behavior includes auditors putting forth an honest effort in performing their duties in accordance with the relevant technical and professional standards.

  1. See paras. 5.47 and 5.48 for a discussion of independence, legal, and ethical requirements in an audit organization’s system of quality management.↩︎

  2. See paras. 3.18 through 3.108 for independence requirements and guidance.↩︎

  3. See paras. 4.02 through 4.15 for additional information on competence.↩︎

  4. See paras. 3.18 through 3.108 for independence requirements and guidance.↩︎