Welcome to the City of Seattle's Office of City Auditor web site. The City Auditor is Seattle's independent auditor, appointed by the City Council to a four-year term of office.
The Office of City Auditor conducts performance audits of City of Seattle programs, departments, grantees, and contracts. It also conducts non-audit studies to provide City of Seattle decision makers with timely information.
Feel free to call our office at (206) 233-3801 if you have any questions about our functions or procedures.
April 1, 2015
March 18, 2015
This audit examined the Seattle Police Department's processes and systems for handling public records requests. We evaluated whether current processes and systems include sufficient controls and oversight to: (1) ensure responses to requests are accurate, consistent, and timely; (2) provide reasonable assurance of compliance with legal requirements; and (3) and promote transparency and public trust.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) received almost 4,700 requests for public records in 2014. SPD is challenged to respond to these requests in an accurate and timely manner because of an increased volume of requests, complex legal environment, and changes in technology. We found significant gaps in the resources and systems that SPD uses to process public records requests, and these gaps hinder SPD's ability to ensure accurate and timely responses, provide reasonable assurance of compliance with state law, and promote transparency and public trust. We make 13 recommendations in our report. Our first two recommendations address critical gaps in SPD's Public Disclosure Unit resources and systems and will provide immediate improvements to the Unit's efficiency and accountability. The audit's 11 additional recommendations will improve the Unit's access to records, reduce inefficiencies and the risk of errors, improve oversight and staffing of the Unit, and improve the Unit's communications with the public. Please note that the Seattle Police Department's final, written response to the report is included in Appendix F of the report.
December 22, 2014
This audit was conducted in response to concerns expressed by the City Council and the City Budget Office in early 2013 about the Seattle Department of Transportation's (SDOT) large cumulative unspent bond proceeds from bond issuances dating back to 2008 (e.g., $113.8 million unspent by the end of 2011). The City Council was also interested in whether SDOT's unspent bond balances could be readily shifted to fund transportation projects to help reduce the City's transportation maintenance backlog.
SDOT's unexpectedly large bond balances resulted from several factors including the timing of the City's borrowing, delays in spending of bond proceeds because SDOT's project schedules were dependent on partner agencies completing work before SDOT could proceed, lower bids on projects due to the economic recession, and several City Council actions that increased SDOT's bond proceeds to fund Bridging the Gap transportation projects. The latter included re-purposing bond funds from non-SDOT projects to SDOT projects.
If some of the borrowing had been deferred, bond balances would have been smaller, but this would have merely shifted some of the City's annual borrowing and debt service out into the future. In doing so, the City would have taken the risk that bond rates would increase, even though bond rates during that period ultimately declined and then remained low much longer than anticipated. Interest earned on unspent bond proceeds partially offset annual debt service.
Although SDOT's unspent bond proceeds could be shifted to other eligible projects, this process can be lengthy.
Better communication between SDOT, the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, the City Budget Office, and the City Council to clarify why SDOT was not able to spend its bond proceeds as quickly as planned could have diffused the concerns. Clarifying roles and formalizing and improving the City's policies and procedures for bond planning and spending of bond proceeds would contribute to improved communications between the entries involved in the City's bond process.
November 10, 2014
This interactive web tool describes the current research on what is effective in policing, provides a baseline measure (as of March 2014) for how the Seattle Police Department (SPD) is incorporating this research in its practices, and includes brief descriptions of SPD's work in each of the research areas. This web tool was developed through a collaboration of the Office of City Auditor with SPD and researchers from George Mason University and Arizona State University.
We hope this web tool will be useful to SPD, its stakeholders, and other governmental agencies in thinking about how best to incorporate findings from rigorous research into public safety practices.
October 24, 2014
Focus: At the request of the Seattle City Council, our office contracted with the evaluation firm, MEF Associates, to conduct an evaluability assessment of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) to determine whether it is ready for an evaluation of its effectiveness.
Results: The report from MEF identified some strengths of SYVPI but concluded that due to a number of issues with the design and implementation of SYVPI, a rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of SYVPI from 2009 through present is not possible. The report outlines a series of steps that SYVPI could take to get ready for an evaluation at some point in the future. In addition, our office has outlined in an attached memo five specific things that the Executive and City Council could do to support a future evaluation of SYVPI:
- Ensure that SYVPI has clear goals,
- Support a youth violence needs assessment,
- Monitor progress of the SYVPI risk assessment tool,
- Ensure that SYVPI has an adequate data system, and
- Require SYVPI management to report regularly to the Executive and City Council on its evaluation readiness.
The Executive’s attached response to the MEF report indicates that SYVPI plans to address the evaluation planning steps outlined by MEF. However, SYVPI cannot be expected to ready itself for a rigorous evaluation without significant support from the Executive and City Council.
October 17, 2014
Focus: This audit was conducted in response to the Paid Sick and Safe Leave Ordinance (123698), which called for our office to audit the Seattle Office for Civil Rights’ (SOCR) enforcement of the Ordinance.
Results: During the first 16 months of the enforcement of the Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, SOCR primarily used a non-adversarial advisory letter process to enforce the Ordinance, which focused on businesses achieving compliance rather than SOCR conducting formal investigations or imposing sanctions. Although the process may have corrected businesses’ future practices, it did not always hold them accountable for past practices. We identified issues with the advisory letter process and question its extensive use as a long term enforcement strategy.
June 6, 2014
Focus: The Seattle City Council requested this audit because of an alleged employee theft of over $1 million of customer payments from a secondary revenue stream at Seattle Public Utilities. The City Council wanted to ensure that appropriate controls were also in place over the secondary revenue streams at Seattle City Light (SCL), because these types of revenues have generally received less attention and scrutiny than the two utilities' primary revenue streams. Through a risk assessment process, we determined that SCL's Salvage Unit should be chosen as a secondary revenue stream for audit. We hired the firm Francis and Company to perform most of the audit work, with our office performing additional work. The audit's primary objectives were to 1) establish through testing of transactions whether (a) past surplus sales were made in accordance with established policies and procedures, (b) sales were appropriately priced, (c) receipts were deposited in a timely manner, and (d) any assets were misappropriated; and 2) identify any weaknesses in the current internal control structure and make recommendations for improvement.
Results: Based on their agreed-upon procedures work, Francis and Company verified that all proceeds from SCL surplus sales tested for the period 2007-2011 were accounted for. However, we have concerns about the Salvage Unit's ability to provide adequate safeguards over surplus yard assets. Accordingly, we developed several recommendations to improve internal controls over the safeguarding of those assets.
May 28, 2014
Focus: To determine in what ways unions representing employees working in Seattle responded to the opportunity to waive the City's Paid Sick and Safe Time regulations through collective bargaining.
Results: Of 56 unions we contacted that represent employees eligible for the City's Paid Sick and Safe Time regulations, 19 did not waive the requirements, 22 waived the requirements, and 15 unions that have multiple contracts waived the requirements in some cases and not others.
May 22, 2014
Focus: To identify: 1) practices related to police chief selection, confirmation, employment contracts, and re-confirmation in cities similar to Seattle; and 2) any recommended best practices in these areas from academics or professional organizations with expertise in policing and police accountability and professionalism.
Results: We surveyed 12 jurisdictions similar in size and policing environment to the City of Seattle (total sample of 13). We found that: 1) all the police chiefs in these 13 cities are appointed by either the Mayor or City Manager; 2) 5 cities have a process for confirming these appointments and the remaining 8 do not; 3) none of the cities has a reconfirmation process in place; 4) only 3 cities have employment contracts with their police chiefs, and 5) 12 of the 13 police chiefs serve at will and do not have term limits on their service.
To identify best practices, we interviewed officials from the Police Executive Research Forum, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the cities of Baltimore, MD; Bridgeport, CT; Denver, CO; and Nashville, TN. We obtained opinions from these officials on the advantages and disadvantages of reconfirmation, term limits, and employment contracts and factors that contribute to a successful police chief selection process.
May 20, 2014
Focus: To determine whether: 1) the recent bid process for police impound services complied with State of Washington and City of Seattle laws; 2) the City obtained the technologies it desired; 3) opportunities for women and minority owned businesses (WMBE) increased or decreased under the new contract; and 4) retrieval storage lots meet requirements for location and accessibility.
Results: We found that:
- The City complied with State and City laws related to public procurement, towing, and impounds in conducting the Request for Proposal (RFP) and contract award processes.
- The City was successful in obtaining the new technologies it desired.
- The percentage of impounds and storage days provided by WMBE firms has decreased under the new contract.
- Two of the contractor's 3 storage and release lots comply with the contract requirements. We question whether the south end lot is easily accessible to a public transit route.
April 30, 2014
Focus: To report on the implementation status as of December 2013 of 350 recommendations from audit reports issued by our office from January 2007 through December 2013.
Results: As of December 2013, 67 percent (234 out of 350) were implemented, 23 percent (82 out of 350) were pending, and 10 percent (34 out of 350) did not warrant further follow-up.
April 29, 2014
Focus: We conducted an audit of the internal controls over customer account transactions for Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Seattle City Light (SCL). We reviewed the applicable policies and procedures to determine if the internal controls in place were adequate to prevent and/or detect inappropriate utility account transactions. We also conducted data mining to review utility account transactions.
Results: Overall, we found that current controls over utility account transactions are adequate, and that SPU and SCL have taken several actions in the last two years to strengthen these controls. However, we also noted several areas requiring further strengthening of controls, including several related to improving SPU and SCL's procedures for monitoring for inappropriate transactions with the use of exception reporting.
April 22, 2014
Focus: The Office of City Auditor contracted with the University of Washington to conduct an evaluation of the impacts of the City's Paid Sick and Safe Leave Ordinance on employers and employees.
Results: After the Ordinance was in effect for one year, the evaluation determined that the majority of employers (96%) are offering some paid leave to full time employees, with 62% also offering leave to their part time employees. However, 39% of employers either do not cover full- and part-time employees as required by the law, and/or do not offer as many hours as the law requires. Employers reported that implementation difficulties were frustrating but transient. The cost of providing leave was tracked by very few employers, but those reporting cited costs of less than half a percent of gross revenues, with far less usage than anticipated. Seventy percent of employers said they support the ordinance and view paid leave as a valuable and important benefit for their workers. Interviews with a small group of employees indicate that employees appreciate having a "safety net" that allows them to take time off to care for themselves or their sick family members. However, there are many employees who still do not have access to the benefit, especially those working for employers with 250 or more employees.
April 8, 2014
Focus: To conduct research on six cities that elect some or all councilmembers by district, in preparation for Seattle to transition to a district election system. We contacted each of the six cities and asked them 16 questions developed by the interdepartmental team for district elections.
Results: We received written responses from five city council offices and one executive office. We found that most of the cities do not organize legislative or executive functions by election district, and are instead organized by city function or issue. We also found that city council offices operated similar to Seattle, with few district distinctions.
March 31, 2014
Since 2008, our office has published a number of reports in the area of public safety. These reports are a mix of traditional audits and non-audit projects.
Links to reports from 2012 and years earlier will take you to the Seattle.gov Archive web site.
In addition to our published reports, we are currently:
- Working on an audit of SPD’s Public Disclosure Process;
- Continuing program evaluation work for Career Bridge and SYVPI, and
- Acting as the project manager/liaison for three federal grants related to improving law enforcement in the City.
July 24, 2013
Presentation on ACE’s: Learn about the stunning link between childhood trauma and adult public health problems
On July 24, 2013, the Office for Education and the Office of City Auditor sponsored a presentation on a significant epidemiological study by the Centers for Disease Control that traces the origins of many adult public health problems to a common source: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
The first research results were published in 1998, followed by 57 other publications through 2011. The research showed that there was a direct link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease (including heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes and many autoimmune diseases), as well as depression, suicide, being violent, and becoming a victim of violence.
Dr. Laura Porter, Director of ACE Partnerships at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services presented findings from the ACEs study and describe efforts in Washington State to incorporate this research into practice.
Then, Isabel Munoz-Colon from the City of Seattle Office for Education and Sara L. Rigel, from the Seattle and King County Public Health Department described a new pilot program that incorporates learning from the ACEs study into practice in Seattle Public Schools.
University of Washington/City of Seattle Research Colloquium
December 7, 2012
12:30 - 2:30 pm City Council Chambers
The Knighton Award is given by the Association of Local Government Auditors. It recognizes the best performance audit reports of the preceding year. Awards are presented according to the size of the audit shop. Seattle's audit office is considered a "medium shop," and has been a recipient of this peer-reviewed honor for the audits listed below.
Association of Local Government Auditors Knighton Award
Seattle's Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance Enforcement Audit
Seattle's Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance Enforcement Audit was given the highest award in the Medium Shop category. In making the award, the judges provided the following comments: The audit objective/scope was to "assess the effectiveness of Seattle's enforcement of its Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance." Both the paid sick time ordinance itself and the audit objective/scope are significantly impactful, as they affect a large segment of Seattle's workers and employers, and especially those workers who were potentially wronged by their employers. This goes beyond city administrative processes or internal city government policies. The audit found significant issues with the enforcement approach: it was ineffective, for example, when groups of employees (not just individual employees) were denied their paid sick time or when retaliation concerns were involved. The audit notes that enforcement actions did not always result in back-pay to the affected workers. The non-adversarial advisory letter process did not lead to formal investigations, appropriate follow-up with complainants, or evidence of company-wide compliance.
The audit conclusions draw on a sample of case files and interviews with complainants and affected employers - these audit techniques are appropriate for assessing the ordinance effectiveness as they go directly to the affected parties. Notably, the Auditor in Charge did not shy away from conducting two interviews in Spanish.
According to the award review committee, "The audit clearly establishes cause, root cause, and effect to build its argument. The audit recommendations match to the audit findings and are feasible and concrete. Audit results are communicated clearly through a cover letter, summary tables in lieu of narrative text, visual graphics, and by appending less important findings at the end of the report. This audit received media attention and policy makers reformed the enforcement agency following the audit."
Association of Local Government Auditors Knighton Award
Anti-Graffiti Efforts: Best Practices and Recommendations
This performance audit covered a unique topic. The report's potential for impact was elevated when it connected the level of graffiti with higher rates of crime. This was a very solid report with good information and thorough criteria. The report effectively used peers for best practices and had good use of surveys and focus groups. The auditors conducted a physical inventory of graffiti and graphically presented the information by location and what gets tagged. The combined use of data, maps, survey results, and best practices was a comprehensive way to address the audit topic. It was innovative how the report included the additional costs and potential benefits related to each recommendation made, which addressed all the issues identified. The report was clear and easy to read, and was very good overall.
Association of Local Government Auditors Knighton Award
Seattle Indigent Public Defense Services
The City of Seattle is the Silver award winner with a well-written audit report dealing with a unique subject area. The awards committee found the audit innovative in its approach and persuasive in its recommendations. The audit noted improvements that were needed in 17 of the 19 areas that were analyzed, resulting in 36 recommendations. Due to the persuasiveness of the audit, the auditees agreed with and were implementing almost all of the recommendations.