REAGAN DUNN: Audit will help county control capital projects

Most people who work at a large company have gone through the dreaded performance review process. You know the drill, your boss calls you in to tell you all the ways you could improve in the coming year. No one likes to hear that they have room for improvement but most people will admit that it was helpful in the end.

Government has its own performance review process known as audits. Teams of accountants and efficiency experts pour over government records looking for ways they can improve the system. Audits give the public confidence that the laws are being followed and policy makers a list of things to improve.

Recently, the Washington state auditor concluded a performance audit of King County and issued some troubling findings. The most troubling finding was that King County’s construction management procedures are inadequate and have led to numerous cost overruns. Council member Bob Ferguson and I immediately introduced legislation that would correct these serious problems.

The auditor’s report indicated that King County’s construction management record keeping was so poor that audit consultants could not complete their work for lack of documentation. Construction files are kept differently between departments and even within the same department. In one case, project records were saved under names for science fiction characters.

My legislation will lead to adoption of a policy for phased release of funding only after performance measures have been met. It will also establish a standard report for all appropriation requests, require quarterly reports to the council, examine the advisability of implementing a construction management information system to track performance against schedules and budgets and the legislation will develop standard operating procedures for construction management that apply to all departments.

Cost overruns on capital projects have serious consequences. In many cases these capital projects are built with revenue from bonds. Mistakes that lead to additional costs will literally be paid off for many years to come. It’s sort of like overpaying for your house and paying that mortgage for the next 30 years.

The good news is that progress is already under way to reign in county agencies with poor performance. In 2007, the council started the Capital Projects Oversight program within the King County Auditor’s office to quickly alert policy-makers when projects are at risk of going over budget or coming in behind schedule.

For the last few years, the council has required a multi step process for approving funds for large capital projects. The county executive has been forced to justify the projects and demonstrate creditable cost estimates before appropriations are approved.

King County has not done a good job of managing its capital projects. The council has been trying to get control of these processes but with limited success. This audit gives King County the information it needs to change and change it must.

Reagan Dunn of Maple Valley represents the King County Council’s Ninth District, which includes part of Renton. He can be reached via e-mail at reagan.dunn@kingcounty.gov.


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