Washington State Auditor’s Office issues first workplace culture audit

Sep 13, 2021

Today the Office of the Washington State Auditor released a first-of-its-kind performance audit in the state: an in-depth review of a large state agency's workplace culture.

The audit of the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is also one of the first of its kind in the nation to use the tools of government performance auditing to examine how work environment affects an agency's ability to fulfill its mission.

“Making sure government employees are able to work together effectively is fundamental to making government work better,” State Auditor Pat McCarthy said. “We see this audit as an example of applying the independence of an audit to today's complex questions about workplace culture and safety.”

The Office conducted the audit in response to publicized incidents of sexual harassment and assault, as well as ongoing stakeholder concerns about the overall culture within the DFW, the state's eighth-largest agency.

Ultimately, the audit did not find evidence of a highly sexualized culture or widespread sexual harassment. However, it did find evidence of other kinds of unprofessional behavior, along with communication breakdowns across the agency and a general lack of confidence in management's ability to address these issues for the long term. The audit also details a number of changes DFW has already made.

A three-page summary of the key findings can be found here and the full report can be found here.

“The Department should be credited with welcoming this audit and fully participating,” McCarthy said. “The results show agency leadership should stay the course. Improving an organization takes time and effort, and that is a lesson that can be applied across state and local governments in Washington.”

Drawing on research methods used in the field of applied cultural anthropology, SAO auditors used qualitative and quantitative approaches to determine DFW employees' beliefs about their workplace.

Auditors surveyed approximately 800 of about 1,800 total employees. Auditors also spoke with 222 of them through a variety of methods, including 40 individual interviews, 27 group interviews, 10 job shadows, and six meetings with regional management. DFW employees also had a dedicated phone line to SAO to discuss their experiences with our Office.

The core audit team also drew on the professional expertise of other SAO employees, including a trained cultural anthropologist, a methodologist, and investigators with experience conducting sensitive interviews.

To ensure the rigor of this groundbreaking audit, SAO engaged Dr. Mary Odell Butler for an outside review. Dr. Butler, who is an expert in applied anthropology at the University of Maryland, said the work was “impressive in the number of data collection events and in the thoroughness of the instrumentation,” and found the qualitative research to be “state of the art.”

Media inquiries: Kathleen Cooper, Director of Communications – Kathleen.Cooper@sao.wa.gov | 360-890-0751