“More than 60 percent of the changes we see across all local government involve organizations adopting a standard prevailing practice. About 25 to 30 percent take up a leading practice, which is not widely adopted yet but recognized as effective. Just a small group are trying emerging practices. But if you’re going through the effort of making a change, why not consider the leading practice over the prevailing practice?” — Karen Thoreson, President of the Alliance for Innovation in our Q&A with her in Governing Magazine.
Just yesterday, in a Portland City Council meeting. the city’s auditor, Mary Hull Caballero, argued that the city charter interferes with the independence of her office.
Her primary gripes: Currently the charter requires that she take advice, as do city departments generally, from city attorneys. The charter also creates a situation in which she’s dependent on the Office of Management & Finance, as it controls important functions that the auditor’s office depends on, like human resources and contracting. Then, too, the city budget office makes recommendations about her budget, which could compromise her ability to criticize that office.
So, here’s the question. Can the Portland auditor, and others, fairly examine the operations and performance of these or other city offices if she is dependent on their services? We can see that this might be a problem.
But there’s another side to the issue; shouldn’t agencies and departments, which hold other agencies and departments accountable, be held accountable themselves? At least one commissioner, Amanda Fritz, seems opposed to changes in the charter. We didn’t get a clear idea as to why, from the coverage of yesterday’s meeting, but past articles have cited her view that the auditor’s office needs more oversight itself and that investigations of personnel complaints would be a particular problem if it wasn’t under the authority of the Bureau of Human Resources. There will likely be a referendum in May for citizen’s to vote on a change in the city charter to provide more independence for the auditor. For more information, there’s a write-up of yesterday’s council meeting here.
A January audit by the excellent performance audit team in Louisiana’s legislative audit office found that shortages of dollars and management misunderstanding of internal audit functions are impairing the ability of the state’s 35 internal audit divisions.
Fifty-seven percent did not report to an audit committee, a recommendation of the Institute of Internal Auditors; 74 percent did not have a current quality assurance review, even though that’s required by professional standards and state law; 31 percent said management requests or mandated audits hindered their ability to prioritize audits based on risk-based criteria. In a survey response, one internal auditor told the legislative audit team: “Many agency heads do not understand the true role of Internal Audit. Internal auditors are often asked to conduct tasks that impair independence or prevent them from performing a true internal audit function.”
It was no surprise to us that the biggest challenge cited by internal auditors was their limited budgets. Many are very thinly staffed. In fact, the audit points out that half are one-person outfits.
Don’t believe what you see.
We get lost a lot. It’s common, in our car, to hear our voices harshly cussing out the GPS (when it starts to assert that it’s “recalculating,” we want to throw it out the window. But at least that’s better than the times when we’re yelling at one another.)
With our mutual lack of a sense of direction, we’re particularly dispirited when road signs are unclear – or even wrong. And that happens more often than you’d think. We have to wonder why towns and cities aren’t somewhat more careful on this front.
Here’s Exhibit A: For over a year, we’ve entered the FDR Drive just after 34th street to be greeted by two signs that clearly advise us to get out of the two right hand lanes. They’re “closed,” the orange signs claim. But they’re not. We have never — not once — seen the right two lanes closed in hundreds of times that we’ve taken this route.
Changing lanes on this busy three-lane stretch of road is never a snap and so we feel particularly sorry for the folks who don’t know, as we do, that the only way these signs are useful is if you ignore them.
So, that’s what we do. Of course, if ever reality matches the signage, we’ll be out of luck, just like all the people who follow them now are.
We keep a close eye on the output of auditors’ offices in states and local governments. We’ll be reporting about them, as a regular feature on this website dubbed “Audit Watch.” Here’s the first one.
How transparent are processes for selecting one transportation project over another? Do they utilize understandable selection criteria and benefit cost analysis? The answer was no in Georgia, where a December 2016 audit criticized the selection process. Problems popped up in both documentation and stakeholder communication, with a poll of officials at Metropolitan Planning Organizations finding that 44 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that the selection process was transparent.
“The Planning Division does not require any documentation or explanation for programming a low scoring project ahead of a high scoring project,” the audit said.