Talkin’ Shop with: Brian Evans, Metro Auditor

About Metro’s Audit Shop

MetroAuditor Brian Evans 2015The Metro Auditor’s Office mission is to make Metro programs more transparent, efficient and effective and to ensure that its activities are accountable to citizens. We do this by conducting independent and objective assessments and reporting our findings and recommendations.

It is our vision to be completely relevant and efficient, choosing the right areas to audit and completing audits quickly so that Metro can constantly improve its services and be accountable to the public.

The Metro Charter created the office of Metro Auditor, to be elected at large for a four-year term, beginning in 1995.

So far in 2016, reports have been released on the financial condition of Metro, a follow-up audit on travel practices and ethics, and an audit on community planning and development grants.

In addition to performance audits, the Metro auditor also publishes annual reports and peer reviews.

The Metro Accountability Hotline, administered by the Metro Auditor’s Office, gives employees and citizens an avenue to report misconduct, waste or misuse of resources in any Metro or Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission facility or department.

MetroAuditorLogo seems like a pretty unique government structure. Can you describe it?

It is quite unique. Metro is one of only two regional governments with elected officials in the country. It encompasses Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties and is governed by a nonpartisan council, with six district councilors, each representing different parts of the region. Metro’s council president is regionally elected. The region represents 1.5 million people in 24 cities and three counties. MetroAuditorMapBoudaries

Map of the Metro area, indicated with the blue border.

When it comes to transportation planning, Metro is the federally mandated metropolitan planning organization that develops an overall transportation plan and to program federal funds through the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT). JPACT is comprised of locally elected officials from across the region. They strategize how to use federal funds and are high-level decisions-makers.

The Metro Council also oversees the Metropolitan Exposition and Recreation Commission, or MERC. MERC Commissioners are appointed by the Metro Council based on the recommendation of their local area governments. MERC has seven members who represent the city of Portland, Metro, and one each for Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. The commissioners serve four-year terms.

Services of Metro:

So, when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An architect.

Architecture and auditing seem very different— do you see any similarities?

Both professions focus on the details while keeping an eye on the big picture. Architects balance aesthetic considerations with the practical needs of the people who will use the building they design. Performance audits have to balance similar considerations. Effective auditing combines practical information with creativity to produce a report that the public, decision makers and managers can use to understand the need for improvements. In audit reports we choose the words, tone and data points we think will motivate change. This seem analogous with the choices an architect would make for the materials, color and details of a building.

Prior to becoming an auditor, what did you do?

In undergrad, I studied International Relations and Economics. While in school, I studied abroad in Spain, Kenya, and Tanzania. After that, I served as an AmeriCorps member working on microfinance programs at Mercy Corps. In graduate school, I pursued a Master’s degree in International Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I moved back to Oregon shortly after grad school and worked in state government as the Senior Economist in the economic development department. While there, I did financial and economic analysis of industry trends and business incentives.

How did you get your start in auditing?

In my position as the Senior Economist, I found that I wanted to point out ways we could improve.  There were strategies I thought could help, and recommendations I wanted to make. Essentially, I  wanted to recommend evidence-based policy— which is similar to what auditors do. I learned about the performance auditing in graduate school when the Government Accountability Office did recruiting visits. In Oregon, I did some informational interviews with local government auditors. In 2008, I started my first auditing position with Metro as a Senior Management Auditor.MetroAuditorLandscapeCartoon

What made you stay in auditing?

When I came to Metro, I enjoyed the structured approach to auditing that the office followed. I appreciated and found helpful the office’s commitment to a high level, quality reporting based on the leadership of Jewel Lansing  and Gary Blackmer. Suzanne Flynn, the Metro Auditor I worked for, was committed to the development of staff, and this is something I strive to do as well.

As a Senior Management Auditor and then as a Principal Management Auditor with Metro, I really enjoyed the variety of topics I worked on. I also liked getting into the weeds and the structure of the workflow in performance auditing— the different phases. Programs at Metro tend to be innovative, willing to take risks to move things forward, and have long-term thinking as part of their philosophy. Prior to becoming the elected Auditor of Metro, I had the opportunity to get a good sense of the different parts that make up Metro. I conducted audits on internal services such as payroll, IT, and policy audits around solid waste planning and transportation planning.

You became the Metro Auditor fairly recently. What was the election process like? How’s it going so far? 

I decided to run at the end of 2013, and ended up running unopposed. Running unopposed takes some of the pressure off, but once you commit to running there is a method and timing involved in completing everything you need to complete—the filing deadline, creating a MetroAuditorOfficewebsite, and outreach. I took office in 2015 for a four-year term and am now about halfway though.

One of the things I am most proud of accomplishing in the past two years is putting such a strong team together. There were three vacancies when I took office, as my position needed to be filled, Mary Hull Caballero became Portland’s Auditor, and we had a retirement. I was able to rebuild the office and with my team, keep producing high quality audits.

How do you create your audit schedule

Creating the audit schedule is a process of gathering a lot of data and then analyzing it to identify the areas of greatest need.

We create a list of audit topics based on my discussions with Metro Councilors and department directors, the public, along with topics staff have identified in their audit work. As an office, we have a retreat and conduct a risk assessment, look at impact of potential audit topics, and consider timing and available resources. From there, I select the topics we will audit and publish the list on our website.

What are some current, or recently released audits that you are most excited about?

In February, we released an audit that provides a good picture of the challenge of auditing land use planning. It was also challenging to find a balance between the planning jargon and language the average reader can understand. In the audit, we found decreased geographic alignment between the grant project areas and the ones identified in the regional plan as priorities areas for development. We also found that the program did not develop clear expectations for grant monitoring. The deliverables for some projects were not fully met prior to payments being made. It was not always clear what amount of time should be spent monitoring or how much discretion there was to evaluate deliverables.

Right now, we are conducting an audit of the Zoo, looking at organizational culture. It is challenging to figure out how to audit organizational culture, and then communicate that in a public report. It is making us think about issues from a different perspective.

Follow the Metro Auditor on Twitter! @MetroAuditor 

Check out Metro’s mapping feature that uses GIS and see where the trails, neighborhoods, school districts, and more are.

MetroAuditorMapTrails

Map of the Metro area with trails indicated in green.

Auditors at Work Featured Regional Roundup: Talkin' Shop

BCAuditor RePost: Improving budget and expenditure management in the public education system

In May, our peers in British Columbia released an audit of budget and expenditure management, a crucial part of funding and financial management, in their public education system. Overall, individual schools were following good practices to manage expenditures, but the audit did find areas of potential improvement.

Watch the summary video below to learn more, or check out the full report here.

 

Like what you see? Click here to see more of what the auditors up north are up to!

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GAO Watchblog ReBlog: What you need to know about Tax incentives and the Federal budget

…not all spending looks the same. Spending through tax provisions—known as tax incentives or expenditures—is not as well-known as other types of federal spending, such as discretionary spending on federal programs, or spending on Social Security and other entitlement programs.

Yet tax expenditures totaled more than $1.2 trillion in fiscal year 2015—roughly what is spent on discretionary federal spending. And they didn’t have the scrutiny of other types of federal spending.

Our peers over at GAO have created a most excellent graph (see below) that clearly lays out what Tax incentives are, how much they cost, and the effect they have on the Federal budget.

taxincentives

Accountability and Media Auditors at Work Featured

Talkin’ Shop with: David Givans, Deschutes County Auditor

For nearly 15 years, David Givans has served as Deschutes County’s Internal Auditor. The Internal Audit program independently reviews, evaluates and reports on the financial condition, the accuracy of financial record keeping, compliance with applicable laws, policies, guidelines and procedures, and efficiency and effectiveness of operations. Internal audit reports are given to management and used to provide a dialog for constructive change. 

DAVID GIVANS PICTUREDavid started out his career as a bio-chemist. But, he decided it wasn’t for him, and he went back to school to pursue a career in auditing and accounting. It was through his work at the CPA firm Deloitte & Touche in Los Angeles that he was first exposed to internal auditing. David then moved to Oregon and worked with a small CPA firm doing traditional financial auditing work, business valuations, tax and transactional consulting.

Around 2001-2002, Deschutes County officials started discussing the benefits of having a performance auditor. A County Commissioner and Finance Director had been attending a PSU class taught by Drummond Kahn, current director of Audit Services at the City of Portland Auditor’s Office. Because of what they learned in the class, they were excited about the prospects of adding an internal auditor. Adding to the urgency was the discovery of an embezzlement from the County Sheriff. In 2002, the internal audit program was started through the hiring of David Givans. David is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA).

Internal reports are publicly available online. So far in 2016, reports have been released on juvenile justice, notary fees, DA transition, and others.

About the Deschutes County Audit Shop

The Internal Audit program independently reviews, evaluates and reports on the financial condition, the accuracy of financial record keeping, compliance with applicable laws, policies, guidelines and procedures, and efficiency and effectiveness of operations. Internal audit reports are given to management and used to provide a dialog for constructive change.

In 2002, Deschutes County started its internal audit program and the Board of Commissioners appointed David to provide performance audits. An Audit Committee was developed to provide independence and oversight to the position. The Audit Committee is comprised of four to six members of the public and three County officials. They identify and approve the direction of audits and meet with County departments on audit findings.

What is it like being a single person audit shop?

It’s a bit like being the chef, cook and bottle washer! I am responsible for all of it. I am particularly proud that I have been able to show that single person audit shops can comply with yellow book standards. I have been successfully peer reviewed four times.

I also advocate for small audit organizations and have interacted witMt.Bachelorh many single person audit shops over the years. I’ve found that for single person audit shops in particular, it is important to make sure the organization is set-up well. This means having strong independence and a clear charter. It is also important to have support from your committee or other budgeting authority because you are going to need training and software to be successful.

I use technology to leverage myself— ACL, AutoAudit (electronic work papers), and Excel. This helps to amp up my processing power. I use ACL on most audits to assess department performance. It’s important for auditors to adapt to new technology and to look for opportunities to use it. For example, using the apps on a smart phone or taking pictures during fieldwork.

Aside from the physical resources, making connections and receiving support from peers in other organizations is really helpful. There is so much opportunity here in Oregon to effectively share information and collaborate across levels of government in auditing. And it goes both ways—I’ve had the OAD auditors reach out to me to connect them to County staff for their audits. There are also topics that we as a state can address that are both local and state issues, such as behavioral and mental health.

How do you choose your audit topics?

There are discussions with County leadership and the Audit Committee. I also attend committee meetings and gather information on the departments, which helps me to create a matrix to assess risk. I also consider what topics are timely and relevant, along with what departments have not been audited in a while.

After weighing the factors for their relative significance, an overall risk factor is computed for each area. I also consider staffing-hours, as I typically do four to five audits a year. Each audit ranges in hours from 140 up to 400 hours and report length can vary from a couple of pages to forty pages. After consideration of the number of audit-hours (staffing level) available for the year, those departments with the greatest assessed risk are recommended to the Audit Committee for inclusion in the audit plan for the year.

There are some reoccurring themes I’ve seen come up over the years that I expect to re-visit. For example, the County is self-insured for health insurance, which means we have more risk than contracting out because we handle all the claims and have an onsite clinic and pharmacy. There have been audits on claims processing and the onsite facilities. I’ve also done several audits of the behavioral health topics, looking at client access, business processes, and ensuring compliance.

What are some recent audits you think are particularly interesting?

Well, I am pleased with the Light Fleet Management audit, which received a 2015 ALGA Knighton Award. The audit looked at opportunities to minimize our fleet. In the audit, I found the County had not established written countywide policies, procedures, and guidelines for management of vehicles. This influenced accounting, decision making and management of vehicle resources.

There is also the 2015 Sheriff’s Office Transition audit, in which I was able to see the impact pretty quickly. As a result of the recommendations, the Sheriff’s Office identified a theft by one of its captains.

The follow-up to the County Fair Food and Beverage audit will be released later this year and should be interesting. I will be looking at whether it has been cost-effective to move food and beverage operations in-house as opposed to contracting them out.

A little bird told me you are the president-elect for the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA). What have you been up to in that role?

I have a pretty long history with ALGA. When I first started, I reached out to colleagues such as Debbie Taylor, then Jackson County Auditor, for networking and support. Debbie happened to be a charter member of ALGA and was interested sharing her passion for the organization. I have served on the Peer Review Committee from 2004-2007, Nominating Committee 2008/2009, chaired the Survey Committee from 2011-2013, and was Treasurer from 2013-2015.

For the past year, I’ve been serving as President-Elect and my main duty has been planning the ALGA conference in Austin this May, which is actually sold out (there is a waiting list!). In May, I will become ALGA’s president for 2016-2017. You can follow ALGA on Twitter at @ALGA_Gov and there is also a LinkedIn ALGA group.

It was great talking with you! Any parting thoughts?

I feel very fortunate to have found a career that utilizes my skills, is complex and challenging and provides opportunities to contribute to change in my County. I thank Deschutes County for taking steps to assure that I can do my job effectively and in supporting this position. As a leader within ALGA, I strive to be a voice for the smaller audit shops.dc-100yrs-logo

For prior Talkin’ Shop blog posts, see Shanda Miller, Lane County’s New Performance Auditor and Drummond Kahn, Director of Audit Services at the Portland City Auditor’s Office.

Auditors at Work Featured Regional Roundup: Talkin' Shop

Portland City Auditor: Payment Card Data Security Audit

In 2014, the Portland City auditor released a report stating the City was not in compliance with the standard with its handling of payment card transactions.  Now, certified external assessors report that the City complies with the standard.  Outsourcing payment card processing services, improving data security, and discontinuing some payment options for customers brought the City into compliance.

City of Portland Credit Card audit

The City received more than 10 million payments using credit or debit cards last year for water and sewer services, Parks and Recreation classes or permits, and parking – including City-owned parking garages.

The industry standards for security apply to merchants, like the city, that accept credit or debit cards for payment.  Failing tests in any of 12 sub-categories means the merchant fails to meet the overall standard.  Portland was out of compliance for the previous seven years.  Now that the City is in compliance, it will be tested each year by an outside assessor to make sure it continues to meet the standard.

Read the full audit online 

News coverage of the audit

Koin 6  Portland promises it’s safe to use credit cards: City auditor discovered the city failed security requirements since 2009

Portland Tribune Coverage City improves credit card payment security, but work remains

Auditors at Work Featured IT Audit

Multnomah County Auditor’s Office: Animal Services Audit

Our talented peers over at the Multnomah County Auditor’s Office recently completed a review of the Multnomah County Animal Services program. While they found dedicated and hard-working staff on hand to care for the animals, they also identified areas in need of improvement. In particular, protecting animal and human health and safety both within and outside the shelter should be prioritized.

Learn more here, or watch the video the audit team created below:

Auditors at Work Featured

Internal Auditor Reblog: The Dangers of Assessing Risk through a Political Lens

I’ve said before that risk assessment is as much art as it is science. There is always a subjective component to risk assessments, and subjectivity is never more evident than when issues are viewed through a political lens.

Richard Chambers, president and CEO of the IIA (Institute of Internal Auditors), discusses the dangers that risk assessments may hold when applied directly to politics, and has a few words of caution for internal auditors on the consideration of politically charged global risk assessments. Read more here!

Auditors at Work Featured