Documenting signoffs to minimize risk across government

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Image credit: Adobe Stock/ Maksim Kabakou.

The preservation of official signed documents, often through government systems, is critical to ensure accountability and develop trust.

Government agencies have a variety of unique approval processes requiring signatures from authorized officials. In many cases, signatures are needed to support specific lines of business — such as contracts management, human resources, and loan origination — with well-defined business processes. When these lines of business are also citizen-facing, as in the case of loan origination, signatures may be required from both authorized government officials and members of the public. These transactions tend to be supported by government systems of record and are likely to receive extensive oversight by independent auditors to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse.

In other cases, formal signoffs are done to support day-to-day operations. These types of human-driven processes are common across government, and may or may not be documented or captured in a system of record. For example, a senior executive in charge of a program office may, as a best practice, require staff to seek formal executive signoff before finalizing a memorandum intended for broader distribution within the agency. This best practice may not be documented in policy or procedure, but it serves to minimize reputational risk associated with insufficient vetting of communication materials.

Similarly, a senior government official may require staff to obtain signed concurrence from executives across an agency with potential equities in a position paper. Again, this may not be documented in policy or procedure, but serves as a best practice to minimize the risk of being the sole documented decision maker for an important course of action.

Documentation is key

Government leaders make numerous important decisions every day, and evidence should be maintained for accountability. A lack of formally documented approvals is commonly cited as a major internal control deficiency across government organizations. For example, a Peace Corps Office of Inspector General (OIG) report from 2018 stated that “although the Peace Corps continues to improve key business processes and critical Volunteer support functions, it struggles to plan for the long-term impacts of risk and capital needs of the entire organization.

Specifically, OIG has highlighted areas of concern where the agency did not apply sufficient time and resources to document decisions.” More recently, a 2021 OIG report from the Department of Justice stated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) “does not regularly document substantiation decisions when employees resign or retire during the adjudication process.” Similar findings can be found across all levels of government.

Given that many of the most critical decisions are made by busy senior government officials, many of whom are not record retention experts and/or may be political appointees with relatively short tenures, it is not uncommon for government organizations to struggle with effective recordkeeping of formal signoffs. For day-to-day concurrences, signoffs often involve on-premise electronic signature tools (which often lack workflow and tracking), or may involve wet signatures, and often lack an audit trail.

Fully automated workflows with Adobe Acrobat Sign

As government agencies look to address these challenges, Adobe can help with industry-standard tools and automation. Using Adobe Acrobat Sign, an Adobe Document Cloud solution, governments can leverage a cloud-based, enterprise-class electronic signature service that lets organizations replace paper and ink signature processes with fully automated electronic signature workflows.

This solution lets government organizations easily send, sign, track, and manage signature processes using a browser or mobile device. Adobe Acrobat Sign’s electronic signature audit trail also provides a digital log when and where a document was signed, and by whom. Out-of-the-box integrations with leading productivity software, including Microsoft 365, Salesforce, and ServiceNow allow for seamless retention of electronically signed artifacts in digital document repositories. For the various day-to-day concurrence processes that exist across the government, Adobe Acrobat Sign capabilities also allow users to create their own templates and workflows based on their unique needs and business objectives.

By leveraging Adobe Acrobat Sign’s electronic signature capabilities, governments can strengthen their overall risk posture, and generally improve trust and confidence both within the government and with the public about how decisions are made, documented, and retained. Adobe Acrobat Sign can serve as a key tool in the toolbox for government organizations conscientiously managing risk and internal controls.

To learn more about electronic signatures, visit the Adobe Acrobat Sign for government page.