King County's response to state audit
King County appreciates the effort by the Auditor to help the County improve its operations and maximize value to the taxpayer. However, the County respectfully disagrees with many statements in the audit and is disappointed that the auditor's office did not include all of the county's responses to statements in the published report. The following includes the county's response to statements and some findings in the audit.
StoryKing County appreciates the effort by the Auditor to help the County improve its operations and maximize value to the taxpayer. However, the County respectfully disagrees with many statements in the audit and is disappointed that the auditor's office did not include all of the county's responses to statements in the published report. The following includes the county's response to statements and some findings in the audit.
The county did not have $26 million in cost overruns on 20 roads projects as inferred in the preface to Finding #1. Roads projects are budgeted in phases and initial budgets may account for only design and environmental studies, not the full construction costs of the projects. In fact, the 277th Street project, which accounts for half of the variance cited in the audit, actually came in under budget by $700,000 when all phases of the project are taken into account. The County’s explanatory statement about the reason for variances was not included in the published audit.
Contrary to statements in the audit, department managers and staff have performance measures and are held accountable. Additionally, the County has already taken action or is developing improvements in many of the areas put forth in the findings, including the reinstatement of the Executive Audit Committee.
Nine of the 12 audit findings focus on selected cash and inventory management practices. For each of these nine findings, responsible County officials have already taken action and reinforced internal controls to address the issues brought forward. In the two instances where missing funds or thefts were reported in Executive branch departments, it was County managers who brought this to the attention of the auditor.
The County is aggressively pursuing actions via the Prosecuting Attorney in both departments. We do not concur with generalizations expressed in the overarching conclusion and recommendation which imply that County departments operate without adequate oversight over cash receipts, expenditures and assets.
The County disagrees with the audit's overarching conclusion and recommendation. These statements do not provide a balanced picture of the facts published as audit findings, nor do they recognize the County's long standing commitment to performance management and accountability. The county provided a response to the auditor that was not included in the final document.
The audit's only reference to "performance measures" is in the context of the first finding pertaining to construction management practices yet the overarching statement links performance measures to the 12 findings. The County agrees that improvements need to be made in countywide performance measures for capital project delivery. In addition to performance standards to which managers and staff are held accountable the County has spent two years implementing countywide measures and standards.
King County government is in the forefront nationally of current performance management and accountability efforts. In July 2008, the County Council adopted the Performance Management and Acceptability Ordinance (Ordinance 16202) which created a countywide performance management and accountability system designed to enhance government accountability, transparency, service performance and resource allocation. Late in November 2008, the County Executive created the Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management to be the catalyst for implementing the new Act and formed a performance management workgroup comprised of personnel from all county agencies to advise on implementation, ongoing improvements, outside partnerships, and training for employees. The planning and evolution of these actions was underway during the audit period.
The County has initiated several actions over the past two years including the County Auditor's Capital Oversight Program, the County's King Stat performance measurement system, Project Analysis Reports, and recently the formation of a new Standards Steering Committee to implement specific audit recommendations that will improve the consistency for how project information is documented, filed and reported.
We also disagree with the statement about why there was a termination of the construction management portion of the audit. The audit summary states that the performance audit for construction management was terminated early because "the county was unable to provide complete and timely access to files and records related to construction projects." This statement implies the County was somehow withholding information and not cooperating fully to provide requested information. Again, we believe this statement does not convey a complete and balanced picture of the situation that transpired and the supporting facts. The County believes the Auditor's consultant did not anticipate the diversity, complexity, and multiplicity of systems in use by the County to manage its construction projects. Instead of reaching an understanding of our various project control systems, the auditor deemed all systems insufficient because they were not in a form the consultant desired.
To perform the construction management portion of the audit, the Auditor relied on the services of an independent consultant. There were several factors which delayed the submittal of information during the initial survey phase of the audit including: (1) confusion about the consultant's initial scope of work which the County understood to be focused on construction management activities and not all types and phases of capital projects and programs; (2) unusual and unrealistic requests from the consultant to have direct access to the County's computer systems including access to all project files, electronic records, emails and confidential legal information; and (3) the County's financial system limitations across multiple departments. The County was responsive to the Auditor's requests for information; information was provided to the auditor within the system capabilities of the County and our understanding of the audit scope. The County was ultimately able to provide the requested electronic access to shared folders and information but not within the timeframe requested by the auditor.
County government, under the framework of a citizen approved charter, is by nature decentralized with accountability assigned to multiple elected officials. Past auditing teams have developed findings while appreciating both the balance of power and challenges inherent in a large regional government with a decentralized structure.
The County respects the work of the Auditor and believes the tension and confusion surrounding finding #1 was not the norm based on our long history of past audit experiences. The County is looking forward to reestablishing its positive and collaborative relationship with the State Auditor during future audits.