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.
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
November 20, 2013
Focus: In a Statement of Legislative Intent, the Seattle City Council requested that we review the effectiveness of the Seattle Office for City Rights' (SOCR) enforcement and outreach efforts and compare Seattle's enforcement process with other jurisdictions.
Results: SOCR is highly regarded at the national and local levels as an effective human rights agency and role model for other agencies. We found SOCR's staffing is adequate to meet legal requirements for reaching settlements within federal timeline goals. However, we also found: 1) Some SOCR policies, procedures and practices could affect the public's perception of its objectivity and impartiality and prolong case processing time, 2) limited use of automation to standardize and store documentation for SOCR's enforcement cases could delay case closures, and 3) SOCR's outreach strategy would benefit from a prevention focus and should involve important stakeholders. We make 19 recommendations to address our findings.
September 30, 2013
Focus: This report presents an evaluation plan for the Career Bridge program.
Results: The plan proposes a study focused on capturing Career Bridge participant characteristics and outcomes and the degree to which they align with a logic model presented in an earlier report published on August 1, 2013 by our office - Evaluation of Career Bridge: Preliminary Report. The Evaluation Plan report identifies a list of program outputs and outcomes that support an understanding of program operations. The report has the potential to support ongoing program improvement, and includes a discussion of potential data collection infrastructure improvements.
September 24, 2013
Focus: We were asked to conduct this audit by City Councilmember Jean Godden, Chair of the City Council's Libraries, Utilities, and Center Committee, due to the alleged theft of over $1 million of customer payments from Seattle Public Utilities' (SPU) water main extension and new taps services. The audit's primary objectives were to 1) determine if any theft of customer payments occurred, in addition to the amounts already identified during the City's criminal investigation of the alleged fraud, and 2) review the design of recently revised internal controls implemented by the SPU Customer Service Branch over new water services (taps) business processes and determine whether they are adequate to provide reasonable assurance that a similar theft will not occur in the future. We focused our work primarily on financial controls.
Results: Our tests identified no additional fraud beyond what was already identified in the $1 million alleged theft, though taps service orders related to seven different customers (44 taps) could not be traced to a payment. Seattle Public Utilities provided a list of these service orders to the King County Prosecutor, who is currently prosecuting the case involving the alleged theft. As a result of the audit, SPU was able to subsequently bill and/or collect $190,000 in unpaid new taps work.
In our review of the internal controls design, we concluded that, in general, SPU's recently implemented controls are adequate to provide reasonable assurance that customer payments for new taps work are received, recorded and deposited. However, we made some recommendations to improve the design of these controls.
September 20, 2013
Purpose: The Seattle Office of City Auditor contracted with the University of Washington to evaluate the impacts of the Paid Sick and Safe Time regulations (Ordinance 123698, Seattle Municipal Code 14.16) on employers and employees. This is the second of five reports that will be produced on the impact of the regulations, and describes findings from interviews conducted with 24 Seattle employers in the ten months after the Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance went into effect. Subsequent reports will cover impacts at several points during the first year after implementation.
Report Summary: All but one employer had heard about the Ordinance. Important sources of information included the media, the City of Seattle, professional networks or associations, and the evaluation study itself.
Many employers reported that they initially found the Ordinance and its requirements to be confusing. However, a few months into the implementation period most employers knew whether or not their business was affected and what they needed to do in order to comply. Employers were less aware of how the “safe time” provisions function.
The majority of employers (18 of 24) described complying with the Ordinance. For some, this required minor changes, such as extending paid leave to a few part time employees. Others had to create or re-design policies or extend leave to a large portion of their workforce.
Employers also reported about implementation challenges and special concerns. Some employers initially struggled with the recording and reporting requirements, although all these difficulties were resolved. According to the interviewed employers, the Ordinance did not affect shift swapping, the practice of allowing employees to trade shifts, for any of the interviewees. Most employers have no or moderate concerns about abuse, although a minority believes that employees abuse leave. The report concludes with lessons for other locales.
September 3, 2013
Focus: To: 1) conduct an initial assessment of SDOT's management, 2) conduct a benchmarking of SDOT's performance against industry standards, peer organizations, and best practices, 3) identify SDOT's current performance measures, and 4) make recommendations for areas that should be examined further in Phase II.
Results: SDOT appears to be an organization that has dedicated personnel focusing on meeting its stated mission, has developed a structure that appears to have the basic components to allow it to effectively maintain and improve the City's transportation system, and has many practices that are either considered as best practice or are consistent with established best practices.
SDOT is working on improving or enhancing its operations in areas such as grant tracking, corridor studies, access to field technology, and traffic management. Additional opportunities for strengthening its operations exist in asset management, capital projects, communicating target goals and results, knowledge transfer, and pavement management.
August 8, 2013
Focus: To determine whether the Seattle City Employees' Retirement System (SCERS) is accurately calculating retirement benefits and to evaluate whether internal controls and oversight over calculation processes are sufficient.
Results: Our office tested a sample of retirement calculations from 2011 and 2012, and we identified errors or inconsistencies in 22 of the 30 files tested. The majority of the errors had very little impact on benefits, although they indicate the need for improved controls, support, and oversight of benefit calculations. In order to address these issues, the audit includes recommendations that SCERS:
- Strengthen guidance and oversight of its calculation processes (e.g., create program rules and policy and procedure documents),
- Address limitations in the data used to calculate benefits,
- Improve its calculation worksheets, and
- Increase documentation of each member's benefit calculation, including supervisory review.
Improvements in these areas will increase the accuracy, consistency, efficiency, and transparency of retirement benefit calculations. Additionally, the audit recommends that SCERS strengthen the management of the benefit calculation process overall to ensure improvements are lasting and to reduce the risk of fraud or abuse.
August 1, 2013
Focus: This report provides a preliminary analysis of the implementation of the Career Bridge program, participant characteristics and outcomes, and the estimated costs associated with operating the program. In addition, the report discusses challenges in the current program operations as well as additional potential challenges should Career Bridge be expanded. The program is designed to provide skill-building assistance and connections to resources to move disadvantaged individuals facing multiple barriers toward longer-term employment and/or degrees and credentials. The program focuses on jobless or underemployed adults, who may be low income men of color, may have been formerly incarcerated, or may have limited English skills.
Results: Early outcomes data suggest that the program has had some success in assisting participants in securing employment. While these jobs are generally low wage, entry-level positions, they represent an important first step in engaging (or reengaging) this population in the labor force and moving them toward longer term careers and self-sufficiency. All of the individuals the evaluators spoke with emphasized that a key component of Career Bridge is the involvement of community members and the participants in the development and ongoing operation of the intervention. This role ensures that the intervention honors the needs of this population and empowers them to a degree that traditional service delivery models do not allow. Despite the strong support for Career Bridge among stakeholders and participants, it was clear that there are ongoing challenges that the city needs to address, especially as it seeks to expand Career Bridge and transfer responsibility for program operations to a Community Based Development Organization. The facets of the program that differentiate it from other services available to this population - strong, personal relationships and grassroots implementation - are hard to replicate at scale. The report identifies several challenges associated both with current operations as well as those that have implications for program expansion.
July 8, 2013
Purpose: The Seattle Office of City Auditor contracted with the University of Washington to evaluate the impacts of the Paid Sick and Safe Time regulations (Ordinance 123698, Seattle Municipal Code 14.16) on employers and employees. This report covers baseline conditions at the time the ordinance went into effect. Subsequent reports will cover impacts at several points during the first year after implementation.
Report Summary: Over 1400 randomly-selected City business license holders responded to a survey designed to capture their knowledge of and the likely impact of the ordinance's regulations before they went into effect. The responses to the survey indicated that only a minority of Seattle employers subject to the ordinance were fully in compliance at or near the time it went into effect and were offering paid sick and safe time to all of their employees. Over a quarter of the employers that responded to the survey (27.1 percent) offered neither paid sick leave nor undesignated paid time off to any employee. The majority - 65.4 percent - did not offer paid sick time or paid time off to part-time employees as required by the ordinance. Employers said that sick employees most typically stay home, regardless of whether paid leave is offered. They also said that when employees were absent due to illness, a co-worker typically made up the work. About 40 percent of responding employers reported that their employees work while sick. Employers' responses to the survey revealed a range of knowledge about the ordinance. A substantial minority of employers - about 40 percent - reported not knowing about the ordinance at the time of the survey. The survey indicated that employers who do not currently offer paid sick leave were less likely to have heard about the ordinance.
May 30, 2013
Focus: City Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen and Tim Burgess requested that our office review the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to:
- Identify any short-term efficiency measures that could result in General Fund savings; and
- Identify issues that should be included in the SDOT operations management and efficiencies analysis that began in October 2012 and is currently being conducted by a consultant.
Results: This memo focuses on the six SDOT programs that rely most heavily on the General Fund. We found three areas within these programs for which additional work may result in General Fund savings or increased revenue: 1) leaf pick-up, 2) disabled placard abuse, and 3) credit card transaction fees. We also identified seven longer term issues for inclusion in the ongoing SDOT operations management and efficiencies analysis. In addition, we worked with SDOT to identify efficiency measures they have taken over the last several years, which they estimate resulted in annual savings of approximately $4.7 million.
April 19, 2013
Focus: Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, Chair, Government Accountability and Finance Committee, requested a summary of the experience of jurisdictions that use a centralized grants management system.
Results: We found that jurisdictions vary in the extent to which their grants management programs are centralized. For those jurisdictions that have centralized some aspects of their grants management, we found each jurisdiction had tailored their approach to address the particular challenges they faced. These challenges included, among others, the need for: 1) advance notice of financial commitments, 2) regular, entity-wide financial and management reporting, 3) consistent and effective grants management across all departments, and 4) strict compliance with financial, program and grant-specific requirements.
March 22, 2013
Focus: City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, Chair of the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee, requested that the Office of City Auditor comment on the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) logic model submitted to the Committee on February 27, 2013 by the City of Seattle’s Office of Education.
Results: After we reviewed the logic model and discussed it with SYVPI officials and Dr. Todd Herrenkohl from the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, who has been providing volunteer consulting assistance to SYVPI, we concluded that the questions and issues that we raised in our January 31 memo about the SYVPI logic model still remain to be answered. For example, we have questions about whether there is a clear linkage between the seven SYVPI strategies and its two long-term outcomes measures (e.g., 50% reductions in referrals to Juvenile Court and middle school suspensions and expulsions). However, our discussions with SYVPI officials and Dr. Herrenkohl led us to the following agreements:
- “Phase One” of the Evaluation: The evaluation “readiness review” proposed in our January 31, 2013 memo to the City Council represents the first steps that a skilled evaluator would take in conducting an evaluation. We agreed that it will be important to proceed with these steps, including responding to the 13 questions raised in our memo, and to check-in with the City Council about the implications of the readiness review.
- Logic Model: This logic model could be used as a starting point for “Phase One” of the evaluation, which will include an examination of the 13 questions raised in our previous memo.
February 7, 2013
Focus: To report on the implementation status as of October 2012 of recommendations from audit reports issued by our office from January 2007 through September 2012.
Results: We reviewed the implementation status as of October 2012 of 311 recommendations contained in 35 audit reports issued by our office from January 2007 through September 2012. As of October 2012, 64 percent of our recommendations (200 out of 311) were implemented, 26 percent (80 out of 311) were pending, and 10 percent (31 out of 311) did not warrant further follow-up. The report also discusses our process for tracking and following up on audit recommendations, and lists each recommendation by audit report title, recommendation description, implementation status, and date of implementation.
January 31, 2013
Focus: In a 2013-2014 budget green sheet the City Council requested that the Office of City Auditor develop a logic model and evaluation strategy for the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI).
Results: After we created a logic model for SYVPI, it raised a number of questions about the feasibility of conducting an overall evaluation of SYVPI at this time. Our logic model could not explain the linkages between the major problem SYVPI is seeking to address, the strategies, and the outcomes measures, which are to reduce 1) juvenile court referrals and 2) middle school suspensions and expulsions. Furthermore, we learned that due to the expedited planning process resulting from the City’s desire to respond quickly to the five youth homicides, SYVPI was based on a limited assessment that incorporated community input but examined and compiled data on only a few indicators of the youth violence problem. Therefore, as the next step in the evaluation process, we propose to engage a research partner to conduct an Evaluation-Readiness Review that would address the questions. An Evaluation-Readiness Review could also help clarify program goals and assess implementation issues (e.g., how are service providers documenting their activities?). In addition, we determined that in 2013 we can engage research partners to conduct stand-alone reviews of two components of SYVPI: 1) street outreach and 2) school emphasis officers. This work could occur at the same time as the Evaluation-Readiness Review.
May 2-3, 2011
Conference Materials - Evidence-Based Approaches to Crime Reduction - City of Seattle and George Mason University
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
See flyer for description (pdf)
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 twice been a recipient of this peer-reviewed honor.
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.