There are many definitions of internal control, as it affects the various constituencies of an organization in various ways and at different levels of aggregation. Everyone in an organization has responsibility for internal control to some extent. Virtually all employees produce information used in the internal control system or take other actions needed to effect control. Also, all personnel should be responsible for communicating upward problems in operations, noncompliance with the code of conduct, or other policy violations or illegal actions.
In accounting and auditing, internal control is defined as a process effected by an organization's structure, work and authority flows, people and management information systems, designed to help the organization accomplish specific goals or objectives. It is a means by which an organization's resources are directed, monitored, and measured. It plays an important role in preventing and detecting fraud and protecting the organization's resources, both physical (e.g., machinery and property) and intangible (e.g., reputation or intellectual property such as trademarks). At the organizational level, internal control objectives relate to the reliability of financial reporting, timely feedback on the achievement of operational or strategic goals, and compliance with laws and regulations. At the specific transaction level, internal control refers to the actions taken to achieve a specific objective (e.g., how to ensure the organization's payments to third parties are for valid services rendered). Internal control procedures reduce process variation, leading to more predictable outcomes. Internal control is a key element of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of 1977 and the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002, which required improvements in internal control in United States public corporations. Internal controls within business entities are also referred to as operational controls.
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