Federal Auditing Means 80-Hour Workweeks Around September

May 13th, 2013

Ashley Heavener

Ashley Heavener ’10

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; for those who go into auditing, there’s going to be a time to work, and a time to work so much you can hardly do anything else.

“If you’re going to be an auditor, you’re going to work long hours. You just know,” says Ashley Hevener ’10, a staff accountant at Kearney & Company in Alexandria, Virginia.

It’s one thing to hear vague references to the “busy season” when you’re studying accounting at EMU, Hevener says, and something else altogether to get out in the real world and experience busy season in its full 80-hour-workweek glory. Because Kearney & Co. specializes in federal agency auditing, busy season for Hevener runs from August to November, on either side of the Sept. 30 end to the federal fiscal year.

During busy season, she gets about four hours of sleep on a good night, and finishes off two cups of coffee by the time she makes it to the job site – usually a conference room provided for the audit team by whatever federal agency she’s auditing. Along with the rest of the team, she’ll be in this room from before dawn until after dusk, paging through stacks of paper and pecking away at Excel spreadsheets. They snack on M&M’s and cheeseballs, and the only time they’ll see the sun on these days is when they pause briefly to get some lunch, and another coffee. Usually at least two more coffees are on Hevener’s afternoon and evening agenda. Sometimes people put on headphones to tune out everything else. Other times, there’s usually a sort of easy camaraderie in the audit room. During busy season, members of the audit team spend plenty of time in close quarters, Hevener says, making it pretty important to keep on good terms.

“We all are nerds and find the same things funny. It’s not that hard to get along,” Hevener says.

After November 15, when audit reports are submitted to the client, things gear down a bit; during the off-season, Hevener works on other auditing projects and helps out with some of the consulting work that Kearney & Company does.

Because she grew up in rural Kansas, Harrisonburg felt like a booming metropolis when Hevener got to EMU. After graduation, plus a year earning a master’s of accounting at James Madison University (see story on p. 22), she jumped up another order of population magnitude when her job took her to the Washington D.C. area. And because audits are typically performed on-site, travel far and wide is a regular part of the job. Last year, an auditing gig with the Administrative Office of the United States Courts took her as far as the U.S. District Courts in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Hevener spends her days sifting through numbers, but considers herself more of a problem-solver than a math person. That means from time to time, she finds problems, and one of the toughest parts of the job is breaking bad news to clients. One example: last winter, she discovered that a client who received federal grant money had failed to meet a matching funds requirement. She had to report the finding, knowing that it would mean the client would probably lose that funding for the upcoming year – news that’s particularly unwelcome in a cash-strapped place at a cash-strapped time.

Auditors can’t kick stuff under the rug, though; tough love is part of the job sometimes. On the other hand, pointing out problems that clients don’t know they have is the first step toward fixing them. Her favorite part of all of this? Knowing that those endless hours spent on an audit ends up making a positive difference.  — Andrew Jenner’04