TED Repost: You owe it to yourself to experience a total solar eclipse

Sooo, what are you doing next Monday at 10:18 in the morning? As it turns out, the Oregon Audits Division office happens to sit right in the path of totality (we’re off-center by just a smidge, but that’s allowable). Not everyone can, or should, brave the traffic to join us on the lawn of the Capitol Mall, but those that do may be in for quite the cosmic spectacle.

 

Eclipse chaser David Baron gives his take on what we’re in for and what eclipse viewers in the path of totality can anticipate. Enjoy!
https://embed.ted.com/talks/david_baron_you_owe_it_to_yourself_to_experience_a_total_solar_eclipse

 

The path of totality cutting a swath through Oregon, courtesy of EclipseWise.com

Featured Noteworthy Oregon is Awesome

Talkin’ Shop With: Kip Memmott, Oregon Audit Division’s New Director

About Oregon Audits Division

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The Oregon Audits Division, or OAD, is one of six divisions under Oregon’s independently elected Secretary of State. Oregon is the only state where the state auditing function falls under the Secretary of State. Our approximately 70 professional auditors conduct financial, performance, and information technology audits with the support of two operations staff. In addition, we investigate allegations we receive on our Government Waste Hotline, and monitor the financial audits of Oregon municipalities.

In addition to Audits, the Secretary of State also oversees the state Archives, Elections, and Corporations Divisions. These four divisions are supported internally by our Information Services and Business Services Divisions. Each division is headed by its own director, appointed by the Secretary of State.

Welcome to OAD! What are you most excited about as OAD’s new director?

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Our impact potential.

Over the next couple of years, I think we have the ability to increase the impact of our audits and value to Oregonians, including educating citizens about what we do as auditors.

I truly believe that governmental auditing is one of the last bastions of objective analysis, free of partisan bias. That’s especially important in the political reality of the national landscape today. Within this context, I take my responsibilities very seriously and am honored to serve in this role.

How you see the Audits Division’s role in state government and your role within OAD?

I see OAD as the external auditor for the state, here to add value, enhance transparency and provide assurance. Through the state constitution, the Secretary has independence and broad authority to conduct audits of state agencies. Our primary stakeholders are the citizens of Oregon and it is our responsibility to report our findings to decision-makers and elected bodies to help guide their decisions. As such, citizen-centric reporting is a cornerstone of our audit strategy. The agencies we audit are of course key stakeholders, but the distinction is that we are do not serve as their internal auditors and do not report to them.

I see two primary roles for myself as director. One is to knit together our culture—our professional auditor staff and the elected Secretary’s Executive Team. In doing this, I need to ensure there is a strong communication approach and implement change management strategies to increase our impact and visibility. I think we can do this internally by focusing on process improvement, reporting enhancements, and staff development and externally (at least in part), by reaching a wider audience with our audit work and products. Second, it is my job to help build trustful and collaborative relationships with the agencies we audit. I have been holding very successful meetings with state agency directors and have been attending department internal audit committee meetings as an initial step.

Any surprises so far at OAD?

Well, there are a couple. First, I knew coming in that the staff at OAD were good, but in the past couple of months I’ve learned that they are not just good, they are elite. The variety of their academic backgrounds, their passion for the work, and their credentials combine to create incredibly high quality teams in all our sections— financial, performance, and information technology auditors

I was less pleasantly surprised by the governmental environment in Oregon. Honestly, there appears to be less transparency than I would have hoped in the state, and less inclination towards accountability than I expected. I have also been disappointed at the strong political reaction to our audit work. OAD is completely non-partisan yet it appears that our work is often viewed from a partisan perspective. This is not surprising but disappointing. I will be working hard to change this dynamic as the citizens are not well served with in this paradigm.

Oregon State Capital Building

What was your first job?

I’ve been working since I was 11 years old. My very first job was as a paperboy in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve also worked in fast food, at a movie theater, ski resort, and managed an auto parts store.

Newspaper delivery, food service, movie theater, ski resort, auto parts… Auditing? How’d you get here?

I was interested in accounting and business in high school, and participated in the Future Business Leaders of America program. I started out as an accounting major in college, but it never felt like a good fit, so I switched to U.S. history. I went on to study U.S. History and Public Administration in graduate school at Arizona State University (Go Devils).

It was in grad school that I was first exposed to performance auditing, through an internship with the GAO in Washington, D.C. Did you know federal agencies have historians? They do! My internship with the GAO was in this capacity. I researched and wrote a paper on the history of GAO’s audit team staffing approaches. As part of the internship, I participated in a two week training for GAO performance auditors.

My next internship was with the Arizona State Legislature. I served as an analyst for the House of Representatives Minority Caucus and staffed two committees during the session, Economic Development and Agriculture. It was a great experience and I was offered a full time position after my internship, but I did not take it.

The ASU Grad School Dean, an important mentor to me, suggested I look into the Arizona Auditor General’s officenot because I’d ever want to have a career as an auditor, but because it would enable me to have a bird’s eye view of the different agencies in the state and determine which ones I may be interested in pursuing a career as an administrator. .

I took his initial advice, and a job with the Arizona Auditor General. However, I never looked back.

What other audit shops have you worked at? 

I spent seven years with the Arizona Auditor General, working my way up into management. I left Arizona in 2000 and spent some time in the private sector with a consulting firm in California before taking the internal audit manager position with the County of San Diego. I was there until 2007, when I accepted the Audit Director position with the City and County of Denver, Colorado’s Auditor’s Office. In 2016, I relocated to Oregon and briefly served as the Chief Audit Executive of the Oregon State Treasury before becoming Director of the Audits Division just a couple of months ago.

All the audit shops I’ve worked in had teams of dedicated audit professionals. Auditors seem to be wired the same way— driven, curious, big thinkers who want to change the world.

The shops I’ve worked in have all had different reporting structures. I have worked as both internal and external audit capacities and reported to elected officials, legislative bodies, and operational management (e.g. Chief Financial Officer). I have also reported to audit committees. Audit function governance structures impact audit strategy and risk appetites. Arizona tended more towards risk aversion, which can be the nature of a legislative audit shop. In Denver, unique challenges and culture due to having an elected auditor meant we operated in a very politicized environment. I had to manage political pressure around our findings and reports if and when they conflicted with political agendas.

Kip is quoted in a recent Internal Auditor Magazine article about public sector auditors facing such challenges, including retaliation.

Most memorable audits? 

I have two, and for different reasons. The first one was with the State of Arizona Office of the Auditor General, a performance audit of the state’s Department of Gaming in 1999. This audit epitomized everything performance audits can be.

american-indian_az_reservationsIt was a challenging audit. There’s no criteria on what tribal relations “should be” like and the issues between the American Indian tribes in Arizona and the state government were deep and concerning. As a historian, I brought my knowledge of American history to the audit, which is essential to understanding tribal relations in our country. The audit was controversial from the get-go and looked at governance of the agency within the context of a state that had a history of poor tribal relations. Tribal gaming started in Arizona, and federal laws allow gaming but require a compact between the tribe and state, which allows some state oversight of casinos.

However, the audit found the Department of Gaming was “leaning” heavily on the tribes in ways that were not within their compact, did not add value, and without real cause— as there were good controls in place and no evidence of organized crime. Yet they were strong-arming tribes, showing up to casinos with their badges and guns.

We recommended that the state adhere to their compact with the tribes and essentially back-off. The recommendations we advocated for were based on evidence, but our stance was not politically popular. I presented the findings and recommendations to the legislature and while they were initially not well received, recommendations were implemented that overall, helped tribal relations in the state.

Another memorable audit is the one at the City and County of Denver in 2008 under my leadership, a performance audit of the Emergency Medical Response System. It was heavy on data analytics— a million calls over 5-6 years. We looked at response times and as a result of the audit, the EMR System underwent a Lean process and now the response time is two minutes faster. Two minutes are huge when it comes to life and death situations.

What audits are you most looking forward to?

The two big areas of my audit strategy, or focus, as director are public health and safety, and human services and vulnerable populations. Aside from being interesting areas, these are places I think audits can have more immediate and definitive impacts.

I also plan to conduct audits of legal marijuana, an exciting and high risk emergent public policy. In Denver, my office released the two first municipal performance audits examining aspects of legal marijuana in the nation and they had tremendous, positive impact.

What’s your biggest challenge on the horizon?

There’s two challenges for me. Internally, it’s executive effective change management and continuous improvement within OAD— to align our current processes and reporting approaches with what I see as our impact potential. Externally, it’s building relationships that foster trust and collaboration with the agencies we audit and ensuring we effectively interact and communicate with a wide range of stakeholders, including, perhaps most importantly, the citizens and residents of this great state.

Favorite part about living in Oregon?

The people. I think most transplants would agree with me on that one. It is also a beautiful place to live, (and I have lived in some beautiful places) with a little bit of everything. There are mountains to ski on, trails to hike, the ocean…. And everything is so green!Oregon Welcomes You

Personal motto?

Think Big. Go bold. Think big and take on the big issues, don’t shy away from them. And go bold with strategy and direction. Government auditing is a noble profession. I am honored to work for the elected Secretary of State and to lead such a talented and committed group of audit professionals.

Auditors at Work Featured Noteworthy Regional Roundup: Talkin' Shop

Stephanie Evergreen Reblog: Qualitative chart chooser

The reality is, most people are never going to be excited to read your text heavy 50-page report with no visuals. This is where data visualization can come in handy. Visualization is a great tool to get people interested and engaged with your story. The problem is, many of the qualitative visualizations I see are reports with endless callout quotes or ugly charts that were spit out of data analysis software. We can do better than this.

Stephanie Evergreen and Jennifer Lyons explore the possibilities of charting tricky and complex qualitative data in this blog post. Read more here, and explore some of the chart options below.

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Featured Noteworthy

Oregon Secretary of State Newsroom Reblog: User-friendly election night results website launched by Secretary of State

The Oregon Secretary of State in partnership with county elections officials has launched today a new centralized website that will make it easier to track and follow results on election night.

The website, which can be found at results.oregonvotes.gov, replaces the state election results website and includes individual election results pages for each county.

Read more at: User-friendly election night results website launched by Secretary of State — The Oregon Secretary of State Newsroom

Accountability and Media Featured Noteworthy

Department of Human Services: To Better Achieve its Mission, Vision, and Goals, DHS Must Increase Efforts to Address Employees’ Concerns

Executive Summary


The engagement level of employees can directly influence their ability to do their job and thrive professionally and personally. In April 2016, we conducted a survey of Department of Human Services (DHS) employees to help DHS management identify work environment factors positively or negatively affecting employee engagement.

Survey respondents generally reported they know the agency’s mission vision, and goals and are proud to work there. But their responses also highlighted areas within DHS that need improvement. These included tools and resources to accomplish the work, compensation, hiring practices, recognition, professional development, stress and workload distribution, and communication. Addressing these issues will help DHS improve employee engagement and better achieve the agency’s mission, vision and values.

Read the full report here.

Overview of DHS

The Department of Human Services’ (DHS) mission is to help Oregonians in their own communities achieve safety, well-being, and independence through services that protect, empower, respect choice, and preserve dignity. The agency’s biennial budget is about $10 billion with 7,897 full time equivalent staff.

The agency serves over a million Oregonians each year through two support services units and five program areas. The five programs provide services through numerous field and local offices throughout the state. Central Services, which includes the Director’s office, and Shared Services, provide support and leadership to the following programs: Aging and People with Disabilities, Child Welfare, Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities, Self-Sufficiency, and Vocational Rehabilitation.

Employee engagement is important

Engaged employees are passionate, energetic, and dedicated to their job and organization. One study indicates that a higher level of employee engagement correlates with higher rates of success in achieving strategic goals, higher employee retention, and fewer days of sick leave and lost time.

Work environment surveys can help an organization measure its level of employee engagement. DHS has been conducting an employee survey since 2012 that consists of seven questions designed to measure employee engagement.

Our survey was designed to measure the factors that influence employee engagement. DHS management could use the results of our survey to identify areas to improve, and set priorities for action.

Core knowledge and respectful work units given high ratings among respondents

Survey results indicate that DHS is doing well in four areas that influence engagement: mission, vision, goals; job suitability; respectful work units and reporting of harassing and discriminating behavior; and teamwork.

Nearly all respondents reported they knew the mission, vision, and goals of the agency; and how their work relates to these goals. Furthermore, over 85% of respondents reported they are proud to work at DHS. Almost all of the respondents reported they found their work to be meaningful.

Survey highlights concerns DHS management should address

DHS management should address perceived deficiencies that influence employee engagement. We surveyed 7,426 DHS employees and received 4,580 completed surveys, resulting in a 62% response rate. Employees rated their level of agreement with survey questions regarding factors that influence employee engagement. The response benchmarks we used were based on the existing DHS metrics, which are as follows: 85% and above means the respondent perceives DHS as doing well for that factor; between 66% – 84% means a factor that needs some improvement; and 65% and below means a factor that is in critical need of management attention.

Survey respondents identified seven factors in need of improvement – tools and resources, compensation, hiring practices, recognition, stress and workload, professional development, and communication.

Only 55% of respondents felt they had sufficient tools and resources to do their job. At least 50% of respondents across two units and five programs reported a high level of stress. Many respondents reported concerns about the fairness and competitiveness of hiring practices, and a lack of recognition for the work they do.

Another key factor related to employee engagement and organizational success is communication. For an agency as large as DHS, with offices all over the state, communication can be particularly challenging. However, according to a Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency’s work environment survey, direct and timely communication from senior leaders can go a long way in making employees feel informed and connected.

Leaders also need honest feedback from employees who provide services to clients, in order to help them make the best decisions. Overall, less than half of the respondents felt that communication and information flows effectively between the central office and the field offices.

Recommendations

To better achieve its mission, vision, and goals, we recommend DHS management develop and implement a plan to address the seven areas needing improvement: tools and resources, compensation, hiring practices, recognition, professional development, stress and workload, and communication.

To gauge whether efforts are improving engagement, we recommend DHS management administer a work environment survey at least annually that includes the factors we identified that influence engagement.

Last, we recommend management use the future survey results to revise the plan, as needed.

Agency Response

The agency generally agreed with our recommendations. The full agency response can be found at the end of the report.

Featured New Audit Release Noteworthy

Oregon Department of Education: Clearer Communication, Consistent Use of Results and an Ongoing Commitment to Improvement Could Help Address Testing Concerns

Executive Summary


Our audit responds to House Bill 2713 (2015), developed with input from the State Auditor. It called for a Secretary of State audit to review the impacts of the statewide summative assessment on Oregon’s public schools, and make recommendations for improvement.

Through a series of surveys, site visits and interviews, we learned many schools faced challenges in the first year of administering the new Smarter Balanced test, including adjusting to the demands on staff and school resources. Some reported fewer challenges in the second year.

Some educators are concerned that certain student populations may experience more negative impacts than others. Some also told us that a more comprehensive assessment system would be useful.

Read full report here.

Oregon introduced Smarter Balanced in 2015

The Smarter Balanced assessment is a new test introduced by the Oregon Department of Education to all public schools in the spring of 2015. Smarter Balanced tests 3rd – 8th graders and 11th graders in math and English language arts near the end of the school year. The test assesses students’ progress toward meeting Oregon’s college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards. Smarter Balanced requires more time and depth of knowledge than the previous test.

There is not clear agreement on the test’s purpose

The Smarter Balanced test is intended to provide a measure for accountability, data to identify achievement gaps, and information about whether students meet standards overall, and many value these purposes. We also heard from educators who feel the test should be more useful in the classroom. However, other tools may be better suited for that purpose. The Oregon Department of Education could take a more active role in communicating about the test’s purpose.

The results of the test are not used consistently

Schools, school districts and the state use Smarter Balanced test results inconsistently, and sometimes not at all. Educators told us that it would be easier to use results if they received them sooner. Many reported that additional guidance on how to use results would be helpful. Some also reported that a more comprehensive assessment system would be useful.

Many reported test administration challenges

Educators described schoolwide challenges in the first year of administering Smarter Balanced. Testing did not just affect the classrooms that were actively testing, but could also place additional staffing and resource demands on the entire school. However, some said there were fewer challenges in the second year.

Testing took away from other duties of school and school district personnel. Some schools hired additional staff or substitutes specifically for testing. Testing also tied up computer labs for months at some schools. Time spent taking and preparing for the test took away from instruction time.

Some student populations may experience more negative impacts than others

Standardized testing may affect certain student groups more than others. Despite having accommodations, we heard concerns that the test’s greater use of technology and language may increase the risk that some students will not be able to demonstrate their abilities accurately. Students who take longer to complete the assessment may miss more instruction time.

Students in special education, English Language Learners, and students with less exposure to technology and typing may be particularly affected.

Recommendations

We recommend that the Oregon Department of Education improve communication, foster consistent use of results and continue its commitment to improve test administration. Our specific recommendations can be found on page 18 of the report.

Agency Response

The full agency response can be found at the end of the report.

Featured New Audit Release Noteworthy