Oregon Office of Economic Analysis Reblog: Poverty and progress, Oregon update edition

In order to not bury the lede regarding the 2016 ACS data, Oregon’s household income and poverty numbers look very good. I don’t want to oversell the data, but they are among the best readings in Oregon’s modern history. The underlying, or internal dynamics behind the topline data are even better. This does not mean the economy is perfect, or without issues. We know there remain substantial problems and challenges. It does mean, however, that considerable progress has been made during the current economic expansion following the financial crisis.

Josh Lehner shares his analysis of the 2016 American Community Survey data recently released by the U.S. Census. The data from last year are predominantly good, and indicative of positive economic trends in the state since the depth of the recession. Read more here.

If you’d like to take a peek at the survey data for yourself, you’ll find downloadable data files here and here.

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Secretary of State’s 2017-2018 Audit Plan

Overview of the Audit Plan

The Audits Division of the Secretary of State’s Office adheres to an overall audit strategy that a high-quality and transparent annual audit plan is critical for meeting our mission.

The Division follows professional standards and guidelines for the development of the Annual Audit Plan.

These guidelines recognize that an annual audit plan and work schedule benefit the organization by establishing which agencies, programs, contracts, or other areas will be prioritized for audits on an annual basis.

Including performance, IT, and financial topics, the Oregon Audits Division will tackle 30 audits in the upcoming year, with several more possibilities lined up on the 2018-2019 horizon.

Read the Plan here.

 

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Audit Release: Department of Administrative Services Should Enhance Succession Planning to Address Workforce Risks and Challenges

Report Highlights


The Secretary of State’s Audits Division found that the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) should play a stronger leadership role in addressing key workforce risks and challenges within the state executive branch, through enhanced workforce succession planning.

Read full report here

Background

This audit reviewed succession planning within the Oregon executive branch. Succession planning is an ongoing management process used to ensure workforce continuity and effectiveness, particularly in key leadership and technical functions.

Purpose

The purpose of the audit was to determine if and how the State of Oregon could better plan for future key workforce needs, including preparing state employees to fill key roles.

Key Findings

Within the context that effective succession planning is difficult, complex and is frequently not a priority within the public sector, we found:

  1. DAS has not developed or implemented a state-level succession planning framework, despite recognizing the importance of succession planning.
  2. The lack of a succession planning framework increases workforce risks, such as not developing or retaining knowledgeable and skilled employees to perform critical functions.
  3. These risks are exacerbated by demographic and economic trends, including increasing retirement rates, and a lack of formal succession planning processes within state agencies.
  4. State agencies also report challenges, including inaccessible workforce information, that may hinder strategic human capital management practices and should be addressed at a state level.

To reach our findings we conducted interviews, reviewed documents and reported practices, researched leading practices and analyzed workforce data.

Recommendations

Drawing from national leading practices and benchmarking with other states, the report includes eight recommendations to the Department of Administrative Services focused on implementing a succession planning framework in the Oregon executive branch. Recommendations include providing guidance to agencies, monitoring workforce risks, and working with agencies to identify and address barriers at a state level.

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Internal Auditor ReBlog: The root of the matter

Complex, serious, or pervasive problems are rarely the result of a singular event or failure. Frequently, a “perfect storm” of several causes forms to create an ideal environment for the failure to occur. Moreover, simply getting to the root cause to prevent it from happening again may not be enough — the consequences have to ​be addressed.

To better understand root cause analysis, two general myths need to be dispelled — the myth of the single root cause, and the myth that fixing the root cause alone fixes the problem. Upon recognizing these false notions, internal auditors can use several methods to perform root cause analysis more effectively on their engagements.

Jimmy Parker, a senior manager for internal audits at Verizon, shares his take on how auditors can perform multiple root cause analyses on agency problems. Identification of the problem, measurement, prioritization, and developing audit recommendations that address both conditions and cause are covered. He also recommends considering how the effects of root problems drive how they should be addressed.

Internal auditors should consider that the level of the effect will drive the nature of the root cause analysis and the type of recommendation and action plan:

  • Direct, one-time effect on the process (condition-based recommendation and action plan).
  • Cumulative effect on the process (cause-based recommendation and action plan).
  • Cumulative effect on the organization (recovery-focused recommendation and action plan).
  • High-level, systemic effect (recovery-focused recommendation and action plan).

Read more here.

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Audit Release- ODOT: The Oregon Fuels Tax System Accurately Assesses and Collects Fuels Taxes for Oregon and Local Jurisdictions

Report Highlights


The Secretary of State’s Audits Division found that the Oregon Fuels Tax System (OFTS) accurately assesses and collects fuels taxes for Oregon and local jurisdictions, collecting over $564 million in 2016. However, processes for issuing fuels tax refunds and system design flaws result in minor overpayments and reporting inaccuracies. Additionally, ODOT should enhance processes for testing system backup files, granting and monitoring user access, setting user password parameters, implementing safeguards over personally identifiable information, and identifying security weaknesses.

Read full report here.

Background

In 2013, ODOT contracted with Avalara to implement a new fuels tax system for $2.8 million, replacing an outdated paper based system previously used to handle Oregon Fuels Tax returns.

Purpose

The purpose of our audit was to review and evaluate the effectiveness of key general and application controls that protect and ensure the integrity of the Oregon Fuels Tax System and its data.

Key Findings

1. OFTS accurately calculates, assesses, and collects fuels tax for the state of Oregon and local jurisdictions, but manual processes governing refund payments should be improved to ensure accurate refund payments.
2. Application design flaws result in a small number of refund overpayments and minor reporting inaccuracies.
3. Changes to OFTS computer code are appropriately managed to reasonably ensure that the system and its data will not be compromised as the result of a code change.
4. System back-up processes have never been tested to ensure system data can be restored in the event of a disruption.
5. Security weaknesses exist in processes for granting and reviewing system access, monitoring activities of internal and third-party users with significant system access, and identifying and remediating system security vulnerabilities. In addition, password parameters should be more robust, and safeguards protecting some Personally Identifiable Information (PII) need improving.

Recommendations

The report includes nine recommendations to the Oregon Department of Transportation focused on addressing weaknesses in the refund review processes, fixing system design flaws, testing backups, and correcting security weaknesses.

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Oregon Smoke Information: Info Share

Hurricane Harvey’s dramatic rain event over the city of Houston has (justifiably) consumed much of the national and local media attention this last week. However, Oregonians may also be noticing the side effects of an event much closer to home; fire season. It’s been a hot, dry summer across Oregon, with little rainfall, and as the summer extends into a possibly hot and dry fall, several large fires have erupted across the state. This not only poses imminent danger to lives and livelihoods for those individuals in the path of the fire, it poses a risk to wildlife and forest ecosystems, shuts down roads and forest trails, worsens air quality, costs millions of dollars to combat every year, and prompts mass evacuations. Here in the Willamette Valley, the air quality has been pretty awful.

City, county, tribal, state and federal agencies have aggregated their data on a blog devoted to keeping Oregonians informed about potential fire and smoke effects to their communities. The blog includes links to all kinds of handy fire-related info generated by separate agencies, as well as tips on how to keep yourself safe and breathing easy during fire season. Check it out here.

Wildfire smoke in Oregon on the last day of August

Additionally, last August we released an audit of the Oregon Department of Forestry that examined the strain of several consecutive severe fire seasons on staffing and fire prevention efforts for the state agency. One of the audit’s findings was the need for more focus on mitigating forest fire risks. Ideally, one of the positive effects of a severe fire season could be a renewed focus by states, counties, cities, and individuals on steps that can be taken to prevent  fire related devastation in the future.

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Office of Economic Analysis ReBlog: Oregon government size, an update

Yes, the public sector here in Oregon continues to grow. We have never had more public employees or more tax revenue than we do today. However the regional economy and the number of total Oregonians has never been larger either. Once you make the adjustment of comparing the public sector to the size of the population, or tax revenues as a share of personal income, Oregon’s public sector hasn’t increased in size for decades. And make no mistake, adjustments like these are the correct way to examine the size of government over time. Reasonable people, and unreasonable ones too I suppose, can debate the proper role and scope of the public sector. However a larger population means there are more residents in need of services, from schools to roads to law enforcement and so forth. And a stronger economy generating jobs and income does translate into more tax dollars for the public sector.

Josh Lehner explores the size and presence of public sector employment in Oregon over the past several decades, and points out some trends that illuminate issues with public education employment and tax revenue. Read more here.

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