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Ferguson and Dunn call for higher standards of accountability in response to state audit

Summary

Proposal also addresses cash and asset management findings raised by auditor

Story

Funds for capital construction projects deemed to be of higher risk would be released in phases, and county-wide standards for reporting on capital projects would be established, under legislation introduced by King County Councilmembers Bob Ferguson and Reagan Dunn to strengthen Council oversight of major construction projects.

The proposed motion also asks County agencies to report to the Council on how they have tightened internal management of cash or assets in light of the findings raised in a state accountability audit of King County released this morning.

“The audit tells us that we can do a better job of ensuring accountability of public tax dollars,” said Ferguson, chair of the Council’s Committee of the Whole. “This legislation lays out a game plan for how the Council can strengthen its oversight role, particularly with regard to capital projects, and how the County will address the issues raised by the audit.”

“This audit shows us that there is work we need to do to make King County government better. It's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” said Dunn, chair of the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee. “As stewards of the public's trust, that is our responsibility.”

The Accountability Audit of King County released today by the state Auditor highlights 12 areas where the Auditor believes the County can improve its safeguards over construction management and the management of cash and assets.

To ensure the Council provides the strongest possible oversight over county-wide construction activity, the proposed motion calls for the Council to adopt a policy of releasing funding for higher-risk capital projects in phases, with the establishment of requirements that must be met before funds are appropriated for each of the preliminary design, final design, and construction phases of a project. The proposal would also require:

• A standard report for all capital project appropriation requests including baseline estimates for scope, schedule, and budget,

• A standard set of estimating guidelines that ensure all project budgets will include all known costs along with estimates of how accurate those numbers are,

• More accurate estimates of total costs by basing current year budgets on a conceptual design estimate,

• Establishment and maintenance of a risk register for each project, with a formal risk assessment made for higher-risk projects before funds are released for final design.

The proposed legislation calls for development of a county-wide forecast model that all capital projects must follow to predict cost overruns or schedule delays. It also asks the Executive to develop standardized construction management procedures to replace the current ad-hoc collection of procedures used by different departments.

Accountability and transparency to the public on the actual progress of capital projects would be enhanced with a proposal to examine implementation of a comprehensive, county-wide construction management information system that would track projects against their budgets and schedules.

The proposal further calls for re-establishment of the King County Executive Audit Committee, which has assisted the Executive in the past by reviewing the adequacy and effectiveness of the County’s internal controls and reporting back on whether operations and programs are reaching their established goals and objectives.

Ferguson and Dunn are also calling for the County agencies whose management of cash or assets caught the attention of the Auditor to report to the Council on the procedures they have implemented to address those concerns, including the handling of cash fares collected on Metro Transit buses and trolleys and the inventorying of prescription drugs at Public Health and ammunition at the Sheriff’s office.


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