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News | July 21, 2021

56 Years of Auditing - Paper and Pencil to Laptop

By DCAA Staff Writer

How does auditing today compare to the experience of DCAA’s first auditors?  

In the 1960’s, paper and pencils ruled the workplace. Contractors would deliver their General Ledger, a voluminous book documenting their costs for the year, to their DCAA office.

seven men in suits with a contractor's general ledger
A group of DCAA auditors with a contractors general ledger.
seven men in suits with a contractor's general ledger
Auditors with General Ledger
A group of DCAA auditors with a contractors general ledger.
Photo By: DCAA archives
VIRIN: 210720-D-DV043-1004
The auditors would use 14 column paper to document and analyze the costs. If it was a large contractor, they might tape two sheets together to have sufficient columns for a “quick analysis.” Audit reports were handwritten and if the supervisor made changes, it was done with a pen. For major edits, auditors would use scissors to cut out sections and tape in the new information, the original cut and paste. To finalize the audit report, the administrative staff would type the handwritten draft reports, a tedious and time consuming process. Final reports would fill a cardboard box. Auditors joked about auditing “by the pound.”

woman in front of typewriter looking overworked
Handwritten audit reports were typed by the administrative staff.
woman in front of typewriter looking overworked
Handwritten audit reports were typed by the administrative staff.
Handwritten audit reports were typed by the administrative staff.
Photo By: DCAA Archive
VIRIN: 210720-D-DV043-1001

For calculations, the auditors had a Frieden Automatic Calculator, which had 100 keys and weighed 43 pounds. It was the first calculator and could perform four calculations; addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The best auditors could use the calculator without having to look at the keys. In the 1970s, hand held calculators were widely available and auditors would often purchase one at their own expense because it was so much easier and faster.

As businesses began using computers, DCAA began leveraging technology to improve the audit process and automate manual processes. At first DCAA programmers wrote audit specific programs in the BASIC computer language that were transferred to the computer using paper tape. It often took longer to write the program than to run it but it was still a vast improvement over manual methods and allowed for complex calculations.  

man in front of early computer with dual floppy disc drives
Auditor learning how to use a dual floppy disc computer.
man in front of early computer with dual floppy disc drives
Early Dual Floppy Disc Computer
Auditor learning how to use a dual floppy disc computer.
Photo By: DCAA archives
VIRIN: 210720-D-DV043-1003

In the early 1980’s, DCAA began using desktop computers, first with dual floppy discs and later with hard drives. Early software included a spreadsheet program (Multiplan), a data base management program (dBASEII), and a word-processing program (MultiMate). Each office would have two to four computers and one printer. The information in the desktop was transferred to servers which contained the first type of audit management program enabling better management

As automation advanced, so did its use and application in DCAA audits. Automation greatly increased productivity and has ushered in the office of today where every auditor has a laptop connected to the network and uses Microsoft office programs and CaseWare audit management software. Audit reports are no longer stored in boxes but instead are electronically stored on a server.  What hasn’t changed? Cutting and pasting is still done but now instead of scissors and tape, it’s just a couple clicks of a mouse.