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Performance Audits in Progress

What are we working on now?

Several performance audits are under way at any given time, and more are being considered. The following projects are in the performance audit workplan for the current biennium. Once we have completed initial planning work for a performance audit, we add a one-page description of the project setting set out key questions and our plans for conducting the audit. We also add a tentative publication date for the final report. Please note that the proposals and publication dates are subject to change.

Browse our topic areas by clicking on the headings to expand individual project summaries.

Agriculture and Natural Resources

Washington’s Agricultural Commodity Commissions: An assessment of effectiveness (winter 2022-23)

Washington’s 21 agricultural commodity commissions primarily engage in activities related to marketing, research and education. The state considers each an independent state agency. Commissions collect around $45 million annually in compulsory assessment fees levied on producers to fund their programs. This audit seeks to understand the benefits that these commissions provide to Washington’s producers and its agricultural industry. Our assessments will be based on the commissions’ activities and the perspectives of the producers. The audit will also identify any potential opportunities to enhance those benefits. The audit will include a survey of the state’s producers, designed by our Office and Washington State University in cooperation with the commissions’ staff, to capture producer’s perspectives about the commissions’ current activities and the best way for commissions to address challenges their industries face in the future. Read the one-page summary (PDF).

Economic Development

Growth Management Act: City and county compliance with the Act’s 120-day permitting requirement (tentative)

The state’s Growth Management Act requires cities and counties to issue construction and land development permits no later than 120 days after receiving the developer’s application, providing the application is complete and meets all state and municipal requirements. Legislators have expressed concerns that some cities and counties are not complying with this requirement. Some may have also insisted that developers sign waivers that exempt the issuers from the 120-day requirement. There could be economic consequences if jurisdictions are not complying with the Act. For example, it could mean less predictability for construction and land development applicants and possibly increases in housing costs. This audit would examine the extent to which a selection of cities and counties are complying with this 120-day rule.

Fiscal, Operations and General Government

Evaluating Customer Service at Washington’s Department of Employment Security (late fall 2022)

Washington’s Employment Security Department (ESD) administers the state’s unemployment compensation program. The flood of claims unemployment claims associated with the COVID-19 pandemic strained ESD’s infrastructure and staff. This caused long delays in benefits payments and overwhelmed ESD’s call center capacity. In early 2021, our Office released a performance audit of ESD’s pandemic response that identified factors that led to those problems. The most notable finding concerned the lack of sufficient numbers of trained staff. This follow-up audit will examine ESD’s implementation of a new state law (ESSB 5193) that required the agency to make specific improvements to customer service. Read the one-page summary (PDF).

Health and Human Services

Contracted Homelessness Services: Improving how local governments prioritize contracts and manage provider performance (fall 2022)

Washington has a growing population of people without homes, especially in its highly populated urban areas. Many local governments have devoted significant resources to addressing the homelessness problem, including contracting for services through not-for-profit agencies. Stakeholders have raised concerns about some of those contracts, noting that contracts lacked required performance targets and demonstrated results. This audit will examine the processes selected cities and counties used to identify and prioritize the homeless services they procure. It will also look at how they monitor and manage provider performance. The audit seeks to identify recommendations that would help local governments contract for more effective services. Read the one-page summary (PDF).

Medicaid Managed Care: Ensuring rates paid to MCOs reflect accurate data and program integrity efforts (summer 2023) 

Washington’s Health Care Authority (HCA) contracts with managed care organizations (MCOs) to provide Medicaid services to eligible Washingtonians. Almost one-fourth of the state’s population – 1.7 million people – receive medical and behavioral healthcare through one of five contracted MCOs. During fiscal year 2021, these five MCOs received more than $9.1 billion; nearly half of this money went to one MCO. HCA cannot cap enrollment in the program, but it can control costs through program integrity efforts. HCA must also ensure that “encounter data” from MCOs is accurate, because monthly premiums are based on this data and inaccurate data could result in inflated premium rates. This audit will determine whether HCA and the MCOs have effective processes in place to ensure that encounter data is complete and accurate, and if the monthly premium rates HCA pays to MCOs reflect MCO program integrity efforts, such as identified overpayments. Read the one-page summary (PDF).

Improving Administrative Processes and the Nursing and Medical Commissions (winter 2023)

The Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission and Washington Medical Commission work in tandem with the Department of Health (DOH) to ensure physicians and nurses are providing quality healthcare. DOH establishes administrative procedures, licensing requirements and fees. However, discipline and standards of practice (including establishing, monitoring and enforcing qualifications for licensure) lie fully with the commissions. Stakeholders are concerned about a systemic licensure backlog problem at both the nursing and medical commissions. These backlogs persist despite DOH staff stepping in to help commission employees process delayed paperwork. A contracted audit firm will conduct these two audits, which will address additional concerns specific to each commission. Read the two-page summary of both projects (PDF).

Department of Health: Effectiveness and equity in Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout (tentative)

The COVID-19 pandemic required a large and coordinated response between many governmental agencies and private organizations. Washington’s Department of Health (DOH) worked with the federal government, other state agencies and many partners to provide vaccines to residents. These partners included local health departments, non-profit organizations, healthcare facilities and pharmacists. Some demographic groups continue to have lower vaccination rates than others. Even after states have fully responded to this pandemic, experts warn that future pandemics will likely occur. This audit would evaluate the effectiveness of DOH’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. It will also identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness and equity of future public health event responses. 

Improving Services to Help Prevent Placement in Unfamiliar Foster Homes (suspended indefinitely)

The Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) oversees the state’s foster care system. That system is overburdened and does not have enough suitable homes for the number of children in the system. This audit will examine how effectively DCYF supports children who are at risk of entering the foster care system by providing services that allow them to remain in familiar settings rather than enter the foster care system. Specifically, it will look for opportunities to improve family preservation services that help children remain in their homes, and kinship care services that help place children with a family member or family friend. Read the one-page summary (PDF).  

Higher Education

No topics currently in the 2021-23 workplan.

Information Technology

Information Technology: Reducing risk through better IT legacy system management (tentative)

Nearly one-third of IT systems at Washington executive branch agencies are legacy systems that do not meeting evolving business needs. A legacy system is a computer system based on outdated technology; it is usually incompatible with current solutions, and challenging to maintain and update. Past SAO audits have shown that reviewed state agencies did not account for the full costs of operating and maintaining their legacy systems, nor did they perform proper risk or cost-benefit analyses on whether and how to improve upon legacy systems. This audit will examine how effectively selected agencies identify, track and monitor the use and maintenance of legacy systems. It will also examine their efforts to prioritize and execute updating, replacing or retiring such systems. The audit will look for practices that could help agencies fundamentally enhance information security and manage their IT resources.


K-12 Education

School Safety Planning Follow-up (early in 2023)

This performance audit will follow up on recommendations from our 2019 School Safety Planning audit that were developed to improve regional coordination. In 2021, the Legislature funded regional school safety coordinator positions at each Educational Service District (ESD) to increase districts’ use of best practices in school safety.  Regional school safety centers are intended to provide support in many areas of safety including emergency operations, threat assessments and behavioral health supports. Because school safety remains an ongoing concern, this audit will review what steps have been taken within each ESD to improve school safety and identify where gaps persist. Read the one-page summary (PDF).

K-12 Education: Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic (tentative)

This broadly scoped audit will explore lessons learned from providing a free and appropriate public education during a global pandemic. The break from the physical classroom may bring to light hidden reasons why some students struggle while others succeed. The scoping phase for this project will begin by identifying the key lessons learned during the pandemic regarding public education. Auditors will then select one or more topics to pursue, potentially through a series of audits. The audit will likely make recommendations in two areas. First, to improve education in Washington going forward, and second to better position the state should future events call for long-term school closures. 

Public Safety

Civil Asset Forfeiture in Washington (tentative)

This audit would examine the use of civil asset forfeiture by the state’s law enforcement agencies. Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to seize – and then keep or sell – any property alleged to have been involved in a crime. Under state law, law enforcement may seize property even if the property owners have not been arrested or convicted. The intention of civil asset forfeiture is to deter criminal activity and disrupt criminal organizations. The audit could examine whether forfeiture functions as originally intended. Possible areas of interest include analyzing the types of offenses that lead to asset forfeiture, and the effect on property owners and crime rates. Another area of interest considers how the state uses seized funds. The audit could also review asset forfeiture data reported by law enforcement agencies to the state treasurer.


WSDOT Toll Collection System Replacement Project (late fall 2022)

A 2013 performance audit examining the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tolling system project made a number of recommendations to reduce project risk, improve project management, and improve vendor accountability. In 2016, a second performance audit found WSDOT had accumulated $96.4 million in outstanding tolls, fees and penalties. Of this amount, WSDOT estimated it could recover only $37.1 million. This was due in part to limitations in the toll collection system. To address these problems, WSDOT obtained funding from the Legislature in 2016 to develop a new $27.9 million toll collection system. The new project gave WSDOT the opportunity to apply audit recommendations to gain efficiencies in various tolling business processes. It could also incorporate lessons learned from the first back-office system. The audit recommended WSDOT address customer account management, customer service operations, mobile-friendly customer tools, and accounting and financial management. This legislatively mandated audit will evaluate whether WSDOT has implemented lessons learned from the previous tolling project’s delays. It will also consider whether WSDOT provided adequate oversight of the current project. Read the one-page summary of this audit (PDF).