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Holly Oswalt

Process, Performance and Stakeholder Management Specialist | Knoxville, Tenn.

Holly Oswalt’s decision to go into accounting was a practical one. “I was good with numbers,” she recalls. “Plus, one of my brothers was a CPA and blazed the path.”

Her first job out of college was doing U.S. Army audits for the Department of Defense in Indiana. Then an acquaintance told her about an opening for an auditor in the Office of the Inspector General at TVA.

“My parents were from Tennessee,” Oswalt says. “But they moved to Indiana after my dad got out of the Army because he was able to find work there. I was born in Indiana but, even as a five-year-old, I remember having made up my mind to move back to Tennessee one day. The opening at TVA gave me that chance.”

She got the TVA job and moved to Knoxville in 2006.

The Upside in Auditing

Through 2010, Oswalt conducted performance audits, financial audits and other reviews designed to improve TVA operations and to stop fraud, waste and abuse.

Oswalt admits that auditors aren’t always popular. “People tend to see us as a necessary evil,” she laughs. “But we’re here to help. By systematically evaluating policies, processes and procedures, we are often able to identify weaknesses and risks which the groups we audit can then correct before problems occur. Auditors are no different from anyone else. We want to make a difference. Our goal is to help organizations operate more effectively and efficiently. That’s good for TVA, and it’s good for the people TVA serves.”

Oswalt now works as a policy and project management specialist in the Natural Resources group—a job she landed in part because of her analytical and investigative skills.

“My job in the Inspector General’s office involved a lot of travel which was getting harder for me since my husband and I had three little ones at that point,” says Oswalt.” I’d developed an interest in natural resources work during a previous audit, so I decided to apply when a job managing the Section 26a appeals process came open. My background wasn’t in natural resources so I didn’t really expect to get it. But it’s turned out to be a great match.”

Section 26a of the Act requires TVA approval prior to any shoreline construction activity—from construction of a boat dock for private use to construction of a commercial marina.

“TVA has established criteria to ensure that shoreline construction activities don’t interfere with our ability to manage the river system for flood control, navigation, recreation, power generation and other purposes,” Oswalt explains. “If these criteria aren’t met, we can’t approve the project.”

Constructive Contribution

That’s where Oswalt comes in. “If we deny a permit, the applicant has the right to appeal, and it’s my job to investigate. I review the application documentation and either call or go out and meet with the applicant. I try to explain our permitting rules, hear the applicant out and, if there are special circumstances, work with the applicant to explore options.”

Oswalt says that’s the best part of her job. “I like the interaction with stakeholders. It’s an opportunity to show that TVA isn’t a faceless bureaucracy. It’s made up of people who are willing to listen and care enough to explain our decisions and compromise where appropriate.”

With her auditing background, it is no surprise that Oswalt also is involved in her organization’s efforts to improve efficiency and accountability. She’s responsible for reviewing and updating Natural Resources’ operating policies and procedures and for clarifying roles in her group related to governance, oversight, execution and support.

“That’s dry stuff for most people,” Oswalt admits. “But I like the challenge, and it is important work. Documenting what we do and how we do it leads to opportunities for continuous improvement.”

Oswalt’s commitment to her profession spills over to her personal life, too. She’s been actively involved in the East Tennessee Institute of Internal Auditors since she moved to Knoxville, serving in nearly every capacity from website administrator to President. She currently serves on the Institute’s Board of Governors.

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