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Clearer Roles, Accountability, and Monitoring Would Support Equity Change

Published March 23, 2023

King County’s goal to embed equity in every aspect of its operations is a complicated effort requiring clear roles, strong management structures, and accountability. While the County’s strategies to drive change have largely aligned with leading practices, we found that ambiguity in roles and responsibilities between agency staff and the Office of Equity, Racial and Social Justice (OERSJ) slowed progress. OERSJ is further hampered by lack of rigorous management structures. Without greater clarity and accountability, King County risks losing momentum to build on positive progress.

Audit Highlights

Lack of defined accountability for King County strategies to improve equity slowed progress and threatens the sustainability of equity work. Ambiguity in roles and responsibilities between county agencies and the Office of Equity, Racial and Social Justice (OERSJ) has hindered progress toward achieving county equity goals, which ultimately aim to equitably improve social conditions for all King County residents. In addition, process gaps make it difficult to tell whether the County’s actions are improving equity and racial justice as intended. OERSJ has undergone major changes in staffing, scope, and authority since 2020, and its governance structures are underdeveloped, hindering effective management.

King County’s efforts to become anti-racist and pro-equity largely align with current leading practices for equity change. One notable gap is the lack of a strong data system to facilitate equity-based decisions and engagement with communities. Developing strong equity data systems and incorporating additional leading practices can help the County implement equity strategies and meet its equity goals more effectively and quickly.

We recommend that King County clearly define roles and responsibilities for implementing and tracking progress on its equity, racial, and social justice goals. Clarifying operational responsibilities in the strategic plan will enable OERSJ to better define and prioritize work across its various programs. OERSJ should strengthen its governance structures at the office and program level to improve management and accountability. To ensure King County continues to evolve in its equity work, we recommend the County take steps to better align with leading practices for equity change.

Systemic racial disparities in King County are well-documented. For example, the median incomes of Asian- and White-headed households were double the income of Black-headed households. Black and Hispanic/Latinx residents in King County experienced food insecurity at substantially higher rates than the county average, and COVID-19 death rates in King County for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders were six times as high as for Whites. In 2020, the County strengthened its commitment to centering equity in all county plans, actions, processes, and decisions. However, this goal is not easy to achieve. Effective equity integration requires changes by staff at all levels of government and effective data to guide decision-making. As the key agency leading this change effort, OERSJ must have strong and effective internal processes and organizational structures to make best use of its limited resources to help drive the County toward becoming pro-equity and anti-racist.

Audit Team

Audit Team

Luc Poon, Anu Sidhu, and Kymber Waltmunson worked on this audit. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call the King County Auditor's Office at 206-477-1033 or contact us by email at