Nearly a year ago, the Lane County Board of County Commissioners appointed Shanda Miller as the Lane County Performance Auditor. We thought we would check in with her to see how things are going so far.
Before being appointed Lane County Performance Auditor, Shanda worked for 10 years as a performance auditor at the Oregon Secretary of State Audits Division. She holds a masters of public administration degree from the University of Oregon and a bachelor’s of science in environmental science from University of Idaho. She’s also a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA).
In her free time, Shanda enjoys travelling. She’s traveled to four South American countries, including Brazil and Argentina. Shanda has also traveled to Europe three times and has visited nine European countries— including Sweden, France, and the Netherlands. When she is not working or traveling, you can often find Shanda backpacking in the wilderness. Someday soon, you may find her hiking the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Before Shanda’s appointment, her position had been vacant since the previous auditor’s retirement in 2010.
Tell us about the office of Lane County Performance Auditor.
Mission: The County Performance Auditor’s Office conducts audits to help improve the performance, accountability, and transparency of Lane County government.
To fulfill this mission, we conduct performance audits to provide relevant timely analysis and information so the county can continuously improve its services and build public trust.
The office of the Lane County Performance Auditor is overseen by the Lane County Board of Commissioners.
Earlier this month, the Board updated new policies for the performance audit program, including a new citizen-majority Performance Audit Committee. This committee will help ensure the independence of the performance audit program. It will be made up of three members of the public and two commissioners.
Learn more about the Lane County Performance Auditor
Performance auditors come from a variety of backgrounds— what’s yours?
My bachelor’s degree is a science degree and my first professional job was as a scientist. I think having a science background has been instrumental in my success as a performance auditor. Going into the fieldwork phase of an audit, I already have outlined the potential findings. I think of my potential findings as hypotheses. In fieldwork, I gather the evidence to either prove or disprove those hypotheses.
What has the first 11 months been like?
Good! It’s been a lot of relationship building and I’ve developed good working relationships with the county’s elected officials and top managers. I also met with the public through several “Meet the Auditor” events across the county.
Coming in I knew there was a lot of work to be done to create the program and update the existing policies. I’ve set up the framework for the performance audit office and spent a lot of time working with the Temporary Internal Audit Committee to update the program function policies— they hadn’t been updated since 1986.
I also conducted a County-wide risk assessment and created a strategic plan. Now I’m on my first audit— looking at the County’s financial health. The next audit will be a Behavioral Health services audit, which I will likely start this spring. My goal had been to release the first audit before my one year anniversary, but it will likely be released six weeks after that.
Has there been anything you found surprising?
I’ve found there is a lot of support from the elected officials and managers for having a performance audit function.
What are your goals for the office?
- I want to conduct audits that are focused on areas of high risk and/or those with a high impact. I hope to release three audit reports in 2016.
- Another goal is to be timely, and complete audits on schedule.
- I want to create audit reports that are easy to read and accessible to the public, with lots of visual graphics.
- Another thing I am working on is implementing a fraud, waste, and abuse hotline. My goal is to have this implemented in May of this year.
Are there any future audit topics that you see connecting to larger state issues?
My next audit topic will be on behavioral health services, which gets a large portion of its funding from the state. I haven’t started the audit yet, so my knowledge is limited, but during a countywide risk assessment I conducted last spring, I found Behavioral Health to have the highest inherent risk of not being able to meet its objectives. This includes funding challenges in addition to high staff turnover. Lane County provides behavioral health services for children and adults, as well as crisis support services. One thing I learned during the risk assessment is that those who are experiencing a mental health crisis often find themselves in jail, which is due to their behavior linked to their mental health and associated addictions.
During your countywide risk assessment, what other issues did you discover face Lane County?
As is experienced by many local and state governments, expenses are rising faster than tax revenues. This is often called a structural deficit and can cause challenges for local governments. A lot of this structural deficit is due to increasing employee pension and health care costs.
In the next fiscal year there is a gap of 6.1 million in the County’s general fund. The primary programs funded by the general fund are the public safety programs, and these programs are already pretty thin. We don’t have 24 hour Sheriff patrols and there are only three Sheriff patrols at any one time covering a county that is 4,722 square miles.
You’ve accomplished quite a bit in your first year! How do you do it all?
Let’s see. . . I focus on one thing at a time and prioritize work based on my deadlines and project goals. I have both daily and weekly to-do lists. If a task is not part of a scheduled project, and I don’t have time, I don’t do it. I also don’t read every single email that comes in— I have a folder in my inbox labeled “To Read” and it currently has 63 items in it.
The newest productivity technique I’ve been practicing is taking more breaks. I find when I take frequent short breaks, I can get much more done than if I work 4 hours straight without a break. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it works!
What advice do you have for all the aspiring local governmental auditors out there?
For other performance auditors who think they might want to be a local government auditor, my advice is to work toward getting your Certified Internal Audit credential. Local government auditors are in high demand, and I believe the demand will only increase. Yet there is a low supply of performance auditors with certifications and/or the equivalent experience.