Audit Release: Business Oregon Can Improve the Evaluation and Transparency of Economic Development Incentives and Loan Programs

Executive Summary


Business Oregon, the state’s primary economic development agency, can strengthen its evaluation of incentives and loans given to private businesses, focusing on performance outcomes such as jobs created and retained, wages, and return on investment.

Business Oregon can also help improve the transparency of individual business awards by better reporting information about them to the public and policy makers. And it can improve its selection and modification of the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund awards to private businesses.

These improvements would help the agency, policy makers, and the public ensure that business incentives and loans are as strategic, cost effective and productive as possible, important given high statewide competition for Lottery and General Fund dollars.

Read the full report.

Business Oregon can Better Evaluate the Results of its Business Incentive and Loan Programs

Awards to businesses that Business Oregon has some role in are estimated to total $680 million in the 2015-17 biennium. This includes $145 million of state loans, loan guarantees, grants and tax incentives, and $535 million in locally controlled property tax exemptions initially authorized by the state.

Business Oregon conducts some evaluation of these incentives and loans. But it does not regularly evaluate and publicly report some key program-level outcomes, such as jobs created and retained, wages and return on investment.

We analyzed Oregon Employment Department data that Business Oregon already obtains to illustrate the potential benefits of more in-depth evaluation, and the value of reporting evaluation results to the public and policy makers.

We focused on the agency’s top discretionary programs for private business: the Strategic Reserve Fund (SRF) and Business Expansion Program (BEP), and Business Finance loans and loan guarantees. Unlike Business Finance loans, SRF and BEP loans are forgiven if a business meets job goals. The Governor approves SRF loans.

We analyzed 21 projects that received funding through the SRF or BEP, and an
additional 210 Business Finance projects from 2011-12. These are the most recent years with at least three years of job and wage data after Business Oregon issued the award.

The analysis indicated both positive results and issues that need more examination and public discussion. The programs helped add new jobs for Oregonians, the analysis suggested, and workers filling those jobs generated positive returns to the state through their income tax payments.

workers

Business Oregon’s mission includes supporting businesses that provide living wage jobs.

However, the majority of 2011-12 awards went to businesses with average wages below that of the county they operated in, an important result given Business Oregon’s mission to encourage living-wage jobs. Agency officials say they focused on saving all types of jobs in the down years of 2011-12.

Additional analysis of incentives and loans awarded from 2006-2015 indicated that most of them went to urban areas, which already have faster employment growth than rural areas.

Business Oregon’s strategic plan and key performance measures do not have targets for rural investment and living wages, making it difficult to evaluate these results. Setting targets could facilitate deeper agency evaluation of award cost-effectiveness, the agency’s investment in rural communities, and its ability to encourage projects that pay livable wages.

The audit also focused on enterprise zone property tax exemptions, Oregon’s broadest program of local incentives. Evaluation of enterprise zone performance is sporadic, and several issues need more attention.

Our analysis of 2015 enterprise zone data showed a high amount of zone job growth in the Portland metro area, which is relatively strong economically, and in non-distressed areas. Urban areas have economic development needs too, but the concentration of benefits in relatively well-off urban and non-distressed areas is at odds with the enterprise zone programs’ original focus on lagging areas that have more economic need.

The analysis also found high tax exemptions per job in the long-term rural enterprise zone program — $54,500 in 2015 versus $4,200 in standard zones. And it found high exemptions per job for data centers built by Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon and others. These projects could be costing counties more than typical projects, though fees and other taxes paid by the businesses involved may help offset the property taxes foregone.

In general, state income tax incentives receive more scrutiny, including “sunset” reviews when tax credits are scheduled to expire. But they also need more frequent objective evaluation.

Oregon Can Improve the Transparency of Individual Economic Development Incentives and Loans

In recent years, Oregon has substantially improved its reporting of economic development awards to individual businesses, putting it near the top in various state rankings and improving public accountability.

But policy makers and the public still do not have enough information on many economic development incentive and loan programs to assess their value, determine which businesses are receiving awards, and review the jobs and wages generated by subsidized businesses.

The transparency reporting generally meets state statutes and guidelines. But ten of the 15 programs we reviewed did not disclose outcome information, such as jobs and wages, for individual businesses receiving incentives and loans. For 11 of the programs, determining whether a particular business met program requirements given the information publicly reported was difficult or impossible.

Business Oregon does not identify which businesses receive SRF, BEP, and Business Finance loans, or how many jobs those businesses retain and create.

Agencies did not report the amount of the tax incentives given to individual businesses for four of the eight economic development tax credits and subtractions we evaluated, in part because of tax return confidentiality. And county tax assessor reports for enterprise zone tax exemptions often contain incomplete information on jobs and wages.

Business Oregon Can Further Improve its Selection Process for Strategic Reserve Fund Awards

Business Oregon has developed a new, more thorough selection process for SRF awards, typically forgivable loans. We reviewed a sample of business projects that received SRF awards, and found several areas for further improvement.

The agency should make sure it completes risk reviews before businesses begin their projects. It should also more directly incorporate risk reviews into decision-making, and evaluate the state’s full investment in projects before sending proposed awards to the Governor for approval.

We reviewed seven large projects that included SRF awards from 2008 to 2015. Business Oregon calculated projected returns for those projects based solely on the SRF forgivable loan, and did not include other state investments in the return calculation.

For five of the seven projects, adding estimated state tax credits alone to the return analysis would have significantly reduced the estimated return. For the five projects, estimated worker income taxes were projected to pay back the SRF award amount in three years on average. Adding state tax credits would have increased the estimated payback period to 24 years on average, a substantially increased risk.

Recommendations

Our complete recommendations are included on pages 26 to 27 of the full report. We recommend that Business Oregon develop additional metrics and targets for incentive and loan performance, using them to evaluate the awards and report performance to policymakers and the public.

We also recommend transparency improvements. They include reporting individual SRF, BEP and Business Finance loans, and working with the Legislature, other state agencies and counties to improve the quality of information reported.

And we recommend that the agency improve its selection and modification of the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund awards to private businesses.

Agency Response

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

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Oregon Water Resources Department: Enhancing Sustainability Efforts and Agency Planning Needed to Better Address Oregon’s Water Supply Needs

Executive Summary


Oregon is facing growing pressures and concerns related to its water supply. The Water Resources Department (WRD), charged with managing the state’s water resources, could better balance water rights issuance and management with actions to sustain current and future water needs. The agency can also enhance its focus on groundwater protection, data collection and analysis, and workload and staffing. A long-term agency plan would help WRD strategically focus and prioritize the agency’s efforts and align them with available resources.

Read full report here.

Better balance needed to ensure water sustainability

owrd_logo_color_smwebParts of the state are experiencing regular and large scale water supply availability issues. There are indications that this trend will continue, intensify, and spread. Many water sources in the state have been fully allocated, and groundwater levels are decreasing in several areas. By 2050, Oregon could be faced with a need for an additional 424 billion gallons of water per year to meet irrigation needs and municipal and industrial demand. Though Oregon is known as a rainy place, there is a limited amount of consumable water available for meeting all existing needs and new uses.

While issuing water rights has always been a key responsibility for WRD, actions to restore and protect stream flows and watersheds for long-term sustainability have received less attention. Related programs are limited in number and in participation. The demands that are putting pressure on Oregon’s water supply are likely to continue to grow, which raises the need for action to ensure the ongoing sustainability of our water.

Groundwater protection needs more focus

Groundwater usage is increasing, and a large and growing number of wells go uninspected. Poor well construction may result in higher levels of groundwater contamination or wasted water. Contaminated groundwater would harm the overall groundwater supply. WRD has few well inspectors to inspect all wells in the state. For those wells that are inspected, WRD staff have noted an increase in well drilling deficiencies at a time when well construction has also increased. This could be due in part to minimal requirements to become licensed as a well driller in Oregon. Also, WRD could better coordinate with other agencies to address well risks, such as water contamination and public safety concerns, for the overall health of groundwater resources.

Data challenges hinder efforts to manage and conserve water

WRD collects a lot of information on surface water and some on groundwater. However, given the size of Oregon and its complex geology and aquifer systems, many areas of the state have not had detailed groundwater and surface water investigations. Not all water users are required to report their use, and as such, the amount of water being used in the state can only be estimated. Also, some of the data collected has not been entered into databases and analyzed, so the agency is not able to use it for water management decisions.

Increasing demands and other limitations impede monitoring and regulating water

Dry creek bed in Central Oregon

Dry creek bed in Central Oregon

Growing and changing demands coupled with a limited number of field staff impact WRD’s capacity to effectively monitor and regulate Oregon’s water supply. Field staff coverage overall has steadily declined and there have been some extended gaps in time where positions were vacant. Field staff have to cover a vast geographic region and associated workload. This, along with limited external support, impedes the agency’s ability to protect water and the rights of users, and to curb illegal water use. WRD should regularly assess field staff workload to ensure it aligns to resources and that staff time is dedicated to critical responsibilities.

Long-term agency plan needed to help focus efforts on future water sustainability

While the Integrated Water Resources Strategy provides a long-term multi-agency plan for managing water resources in Oregon, WRD needs an agency plan to strategically focus and prioritize its efforts, and align them with available resources, to better meet its mission. This would help WRD balance its efforts to ensure both consumptive and environmental water demands can be met now and into the future, and address areas needing increased focus, such as groundwater protection, data collection and analysis, and workload and staffing issues. Priority-based planning can help clarify and direct agency efforts that are vital to protecting Oregon’s water supply.

Recommendations

This audit recommends ways WRD can build on its efforts to help address the current and future sustainability of the state’s water supply. Our detailed recommendations for agency management are included on Page 26. They include recommendations for further integrating sustainability considerations into water management decisions, helping to ensure water laws and rules meet current and future needs, enhancing well regulation and groundwater protection efforts, strategically collecting and analyzing information, aligning staff workload with mission critical priorities and resources, and developing an agency long-term plan.

Agency Response

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

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Methods (to our Madness): Leveraging Administrative Data to Understand a Management Issue

Periodically, we will highlight some of the methods used in a recently released audit. Every performance audit is unique and can require creative thinking and methodologies to answer our audit objective. Some of these methods could be replicated or present valuable lessons for future projects.

Anyone who pays attention to the news or lives near a fire prone area, knows that Oregon’s fire seasons have been extreme the past few years. But I sat down with Amelia Eveland, Senior Auditor, and Luis Sandoval, Staff Auditor, to learn about more than Oregon’s formidable wildfires: how the team used data to understand workforce issues at the Department of Forestry, as described in the recently released audit, Department of Forestry: Actions Needed to Address Strain on Workforce and Programs from Wildfires.

Department of Forestry staff had described fire seasons in terms of acres burned and other fire activity measures, but hadn’t put numbers to what they intuitively knew; those large and frequent fires were affecting all of their programs. The team was able to quantify some of the impact of fires on department programs and staff by analyzing the actual hours worked by employees.

Don’t Overlook Administrative Data Sources

One of the things that I found most interesting was their data source: payroll data. Payroll data is collected for administrative purposes. But administrative data should not be overlooked as a source of information for management analysis. Payroll data provided the information that the team needed and was possibly more accurate than other data sources, since accuracy is important when people are being paid.

Understand Your Data and Its Limitations

Using a data source that is collected for another purpose can have downsides though. The payroll data only went back 6 years and only showed hours billed, not worked. The hours worked by some staff who weren’t eligible for overtime weren’t captured.

The team also had to understand the data and parameters. To do this they worked with the department’s financial staff who were familiar with it. They asked the department staff to pull the data and to check the team’s methodology. In the course of this process, they eliminated pay codes that would double count hours. For example, if someone was working a night shift on a fire line, they could receive pay differential (a supplemental payment) on top of their regular salary. Pay differential hours were logged separately from the hours logged for regular pay, despite applying to the same shift. Initially the team had been counting these hours twice, but working closely with the agency helped them pinpoint and correct potential methodological errors.

Putting Numbers to the Impacts on Staff and Programs

The team overcame these minor obstacles to conduct some pretty interesting analyses. They found that the past three fire seasons had been particularly demanding in terms of staff time, mostly due to regular and overtime hours from permanent employees (as shown in the graph below). This suggests that these employees may be pulled from other activities, and may also feel overworked.

 

forestry-chart

Payroll Hours Billed to Fire Protection by All Oregon Dept. of Forestry Employees

 

The team was also able to get a more accurate picture of which programs were contributing to fighting fire through specialized incident management teams. Because many Forestry employees split their regular time between different programs (for example, someone may split their time 80/20 between Private Forests and Fire Protection), it can be hard to track which programs are being affected when that person goes out to fight a fire. The audit team totaled the regular hours billed to each program and used the proportion of this total to arrive at a proportion of contributing programs.

Get the Power Pivot Add-in (so cool)

I asked the team for advice on using payroll data. They suggested manipulating the data as much as possible in the data query tool before exporting the data for analysis. The team used excel for analysis but used the power pivot add-in to be able to summarize the large quantity of data.

Auditing and Methodology Data Wonk Featured Performance Audit

Things to consider when choosing performance audit topics

How does a performance audit shop decide what topics, and which agencies, warrant an audit? After all, a quick scan of your morning newspaper will stir up a seemingly endless number of important public issues. We can’t get to them all- not all at the same time, anyway- so how do we pick one topic over another?

One illuminating response to that question comes from the schedule of the Auditor General of British Columbia:

Because there are more projects than we can carry out, we use a comprehensive and systematic process to select the topics that best meet our mandate and will have the greatest impact. Potential performance audit topics come from:

  • the work we’ve completed and are currently engaged in
  • discussions with stakeholders, including the public service, government and the opposition
  • information and requests from MLAs, the people of B.C. and other stakeholders
  • the work of other audit offices
  • changes to government sectors and programs

Topics

The same considerations largely apply in Oregon as well. Auditors here at the Oregon Audits Division (OAD) work on a wide range of potential topics, limited only by the range and breadth of public services state agencies deliver. In addition to the considerations outlined above, we also look at broader issues that affect multiple agencies and the general public. We consider topics where an audit may add value and clarity to the discussion, or provide guidance to an agency in need of a course correction to achieve its mission and goals. These include areas of great significance to the general population and costs to taxpayers (education, health care, environment), areas prone to risk (IT systems), and many more of the kinds of complex ‘wicked’ problems that require sustained efforts to ensure that they are properly managed.

Timing

The timing of an audit can affect the relevance and value of the audit findings and recommendations. An immediate issue that receives a lot of public attention in March may change drastically by October, so it is worth considering whether to go ahead with an audit when circumstances might render the findings obsolete by the time the report is released. For that reason, we choose topics with much care and an eye to systemic long-term benefits. The results of our audits ideally help public agencies avoid major issues to start with- not just attempt to right what has already gone wrong.

Audit Schedules

Many audit shops prepare and even publish audit schedules well in advance. Some audit topics are requested or mandated, and others are issues (or agencies) that haven’t been visited in a while and are ripe for review. That said, apart from mandated audits, an audit schedule is less a promise than it is a preview of potential coming attractions. Other, more needful, questions may arise between now and the beginning of the next audit schedule. Maintaining some amount of flexibility helps audit shops share a perspective on issues that is timely and useful.

A few audit schedule examples:

Multnomah County Auditor

Auditor General of British Columbia

Audit Scotland

 

OAD and our peers both near and far approach topic selection thoughtfully, deliberately, and with a long list of considerations in mind.

Please consult our website to delve deeper into our recent performance audits, or visit our audit snapshots page to get a taste of our recent performance audit findings.

 

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Oregon Department of Forestry: Actions Needed to Address Strain on Workforce and Programs from Wildfires

Executive Summary


Three consecutive severe fire seasons have forced the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to spend more time fighting fires and less time on its other programs. Recent fires have also strained ODF personnel, who often work long hours away from home.

ODF needs to take action to reduce these impacts on personnel and programs. Systematic, long-term workforce planning that takes into account resources needed for both fire and non-fire programs; development of a more effective business improvement process; better evaluation of wildfire prevention and detection measures; and increased mitigation efforts are steps ODF should take to help address current and future challenges.

Read full report here

ODF needs to analyze and clearly communicate full impacts of wildfires on the agency

Photo by Oregon Department of Forestry, CC BY

Since 2013, intense fire seasons have resulted in ODF staff spending more time on fire assignments. However, ODF does not currently collect, analyze and communicate to the Legislature and its stakeholders the full impacts of fires on its programs and personnel. This information is necessary for ODF to adequately plan and manage its workforce to meet existing and future demands.

Not only are more employees participating in fire related assignments, but these employees are working much longer hours. Overtime hours spent on fire protection by permanent employees have increased by 197% in recent years.

While the wildfire suppression workload has increased, staffing has not kept pace. ODF is fighting more severe fires with about the same full-time equivalent employees it had nearly 20 years ago. Fires have also created more administrative work, including preparing claims for cost reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies, and making catastrophic wildfire insurance claims and emergency funding requests. To date several of these claims have not been completely processed, which resulted in ODF borrowing to finance these fire related costs. During the past three fire seasons, ODF paid $1.5 million in interest on this borrowing.

ODF staff in Salem and field offices are feeling overworked and are experiencing stress and fatigue as a result of fire related work. Despite the strain of consecutive severe fire seasons, ODF Management reports that employees remain committed to participating in the agency’s firefighting efforts. However, as staff devote more time to wildfire seasons, employees and agency leadership have expressed concerns about ODF’s ability to continue performing at current service levels.

Recent fires have caused delays in work for ODF’s non-fire programs, as employees in these programs are deployed to fire incidents. Examples include delays in developing annual operations plans for state forests, completing Forest Practices Act compliance reporting, and updating bald eagle protection rules. Fires have also created more work for employees in these programs after fires are controlled, such as salvage logging operations and developing and implementing reforestation plans.

Non-fire program contributions to fire response capacity are not fully known

ODF2

Photo by Oregon Department of Forestry, CC BY

Non-fire programs contribute to ODF’s firefighting and to maintaining fire readiness. But ODF is not tracking the contributions these programs make, which are absorbed into their respective budgets. While we identified some of these contributions, ODF needs a full accounting of the contributions and related costs to adequately plan for both fire and non-fire work.

Non-fire programs contribute staff hours to fight fires and to Incident Management command and support teams. For example during the last three fire seasons, the average number of hours State Forests Program staff billed to fire protection doubled to 19,038 hours.
These programs also pay other fire-related expenses such as the cost of specialized fire qualification training, and certain fire equipment and supplies. ODF needs better information on these costs and how changes to staffing, funding and workload in these non-fire programs affect fire operation capacity.

Agency wide workforce planning needed

ODF needs a systematic workforce planning process to effectively address current and emerging challenges to its programs and workforce. Workforce analysis is needed to identify gaps and to monitor, evaluate, and revise resources in order to meet the agency’s strategic goals now and in the future. ODF has completed some analysis, but more is needed, and it should include all necessary firefighting resources.

At ODF, workforce planning is complicated by staff who have program duties and firefighting responsibilities; long training times for fire duties; and the need to meet multiple program missions, including responding to wildfires. But complete workforce analysis and planning, that takes these factors into account, can help ODF ensure it sustainably meets both its fire and non-fire responsibilities.

Systematic process for business improvements needed

As fires have increased in recent years, so have the complexity and number of financial transactions associated with suppressing those fires. Today, ODF has systems in place to collect and assess process improvement suggestions, but some are fragmented and incomplete. We found that sometimes suggestions were not fully reviewed and/or implemented, and decisions were not made or communicated.

A better system that fully reviews, implements and communicates decisions made could help ODF address its increased workload by reducing unnecessary costs and inefficiencies. It could also help to improve the alignment between existing resources and program objectives and priorities.

Evaluation of prevention and detection efforts can be improved

ODF takes some proactive steps to prevent and detect wildfires, but the agency does not systematically evaluate the costs and relative effectiveness of different strategies. Evaluating these strategies could help ODF focus its resources on the most cost-effective strategies to keep suppression costs and wildfire damages low. Better information about the money and staff time spent on different prevention and detection activities and fire causes could aid this evaluation.

More work needed to mitigate wildfire risks and target strategies

ODF3

Fuel Reduction. Photo by Oregon State University, CC BY-SA

ODF, private landowners, and federal agencies work to reduce wildfire risks posed by the accumulation of small trees and vegetation in forests resulting from decades of fire suppression, land use changes, past land management practices, and other factors. Despite these efforts, there are millions of acres of land in Oregon in high wildfire risk areas across all ownerships, including federal, state and private lands. Some of this land is highly important to our water supply. The resources currently dedicated to mitigation work are unlikely to meet this challenge. To reduce wildfire risks, some of these areas may need treatment through methods such as prescribed burning, thinning, or removal of forest underbrush in forests and around homes.

Recommendations

This audit recommends ways ODF can build on its current efforts and accomplishments, and make improvements to address current and future challenges. Our detailed recommendations for ODF management are included on Page 31. They include recommendations for collecting and analyzing better information on fire impacts and costs, developing a systematic, future oriented workforce planning process, and enhancing the agency’s business improvement process. We also recommend actions for ODF to improve wildfire prevention, detection, and mitigation efforts.

Agency Response

The agency agrees with the report findings and recommendations. The full agency response can be found at the end of this report.

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Oregon Youth Authority: Female Youth Offenders Need More Transition Options

Executive Summary


Transition services for female youth in state custody lag behind those available to males.  The Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) has opened a transition pilot program for female youth, but funding has only been allocated through mid-2017.

OYA and counties show an interest in improved program reporting, but county program reporting is still inconsistent and incomplete.  Without an accurate picture of program participation, it is difficult to evaluate program effectiveness or forecast service needs for the juvenile justice system.

Read the full report

Female youth are a growing share of the juvenile justice population

Female youth, including both adolescent girls and young women age 16 or older, are a growing portion of the juvenile offender population in Oregon.  While overall youth referrals to juvenile departments have declined since the early 1990s, the decline has been much steeper for male youth offenders.  Referral rates for females have remained comparatively steady.  As a result, the proportion of statewide referrals for female youth in Oregon rose from 33% in 2000 to 37% in 2014.

Female youth have unique treatment needs

sad-teenage-girl-her-worried-mother-problems-49148369Female youth in juvenile justice tend to have more acute physical and mental health needs, and three times as many female youth in OYA custody have attempted suicide as their male counterparts.  A substantial number report previous sexual, physical and emotional abuse, for which they have received little, if any, treatment.  Female youth also tend to respond to untreated trauma differently; they are more likely to run away, and less likely to engage in more criminal acts.  As a result, female youth sometimes do not receive appropriate treatment until their behavior lands them in the juvenile justice system.

Young women in Oregon Youth Authority custody do not have equitable transition services

Three permanent, stand-alone transition facilities for male youth offenders are operated by OYA, but the state does not currently operate an equivalent stand-alone program for female offenders.  OYA has a dedicated building for a female transition program, but has been unable to secure funding to run the full program.  The building had not been used for its intended purpose since its construction in 2010.  OYA opened a transition pilot program in the unused facility in November 2015.

Female youth transition facility near Oak Creek YCF

Female youth transition facility near Oak Creek YCF

Previously, Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility had hosted a limited female transition program within the custody facility. But this arrangement did not allow participants in the program to partake fully in community activities, and taxed staffing resources needed to run Oak Creek.  Should the pilot program not be permanently funded following the trial period, it will have to be moved back to Oak Creek.

Community facilities that provided services to female youth also recently closed, creating a gap in available treatment options.  OYA currently reports on gender disparities as part of its budget request, but a standalone report on gender equity could draw more attention to gaps that should be addressed.

Need for better county program and service tracking

Due to the lack of comprehensive county program data, we were unable to draw system wide conclusions about the effectiveness of treatment and programming for female youth in the juvenile justice system.  Without a clear picture of what programs are being used and how appropriately services are matched with female youth offenders’ needs, it is difficult to evaluate program effectiveness or accurately forecast service needs for the juvenile justice system.

comp2Less than a quarter of Oregon counties report documenting all youth program participation in the Juvenile Justice Information System (JJIS).  Of the county files we reviewed, over half of female youth offenders’ program participation was not documented in a form that can be extracted and analyzed.  This means that the program data reported in JJIS for both female and male youth offenders is incomplete and inconsistent, and cannot be used to analyze trends or inform program evaluations or statewide policymaking decisions.

OYA and county juvenile departments are responsible for comprehensive and accurate program reporting.  However, program reporting is a relatively new function in JJIS, and counties are only required to report participation in state-funded programs.

Recommendations

We recommend:

  • OYA work with the Legislature to seek ongoing funding to operate the Young Women’s Transition Program beyond the pilot period and ensure adequate community services for female youth;
  • OYA consider creating a regular, standalone report to identify and address disparities between transition programming for male and female youth;
  • OYA and county juvenile departments work together to delineate what program information should be captured in JJIS and help ensure that program information is entered consistently; and
  • OYA and county juvenile departments work together to further identify and resolve existing barriers and restrictions to program data entry and collaborate on finding ways to improve program reporting.

Agency Response

The agency coordinated its response with the Oregon Juvenile Department Directors Association, and together they generally agreed with our recommendations.  They intend to work collaboratively to resolve program data entry barriers and help ensure program information is consistently entered into JJIS.  OYA will also pursue ongoing funding for the Young Women’s Transitional Program.  The full agency response can be found at the end of the report.

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Teacher Standards and Practices Commission: Better Oversight and a More Productive Work Environment Could Improve Service to Educators

Executive Summary


Commissioners, management and staff at the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission need to work together to strengthen the agency’s work environment, increase accountability, and boost performance.

The agency has made recent improvements in service to educators. But it still faces substantial backlogs in issuing licenses, investigating complaints against educators, and responding promptly to educator questions.

Our audit responds to House Bill 3339, which the Legislature passed in 2015. It required a Secretary of State audit to examine the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission and recommend improvements.

Read the full report.

The Agency and Commission Play a Major Role in K-12 Education

The agency licenses about 19,000 educators a year.

The agency licenses about 19,000 educators a year.

The agency, with 26 employees currently, licenses about 19,000 K-12 educators a year. It also evaluates education programs for teachers at Oregon colleges, and investigates hundreds of complaints against educators each year.

A 17-member commission, appointed by the Governor, oversees the agency. The commissioners, mainly teachers and school district administrators, hire and supervise the executive director.

The Commission sets important policies, including requirements for teacher licenses. It approves teacher education programs, and decides whether to sanction educators for misconduct.

Delays in Core Services are Substantial

For many years, the agency has had substantial delays in issuing licenses, completing investigations and responding to educator questions.

Applicants who filed for licenses in July 2015 faced a four-month wait. Investigation lengths averaged more than 14 months in 2015. Response times to emails from educators have improved, but still average more than a week.

The licensing and customer service delays can damage the agency’s reputation, complicate school district hiring and make it harder on educators looking for jobs. In 2015, more than 1,400 applicants or their school districts paid $99 extra for “expedited” service to bypass licensing delays.

In investigations, delays and high caseloads can weaken evidence and increases the risk to of educator misconduct continuing. Investigative delays can also hurt educators’ job prospects, frustrate complaint filers, and reduce investigative depth.

Cuts to management and staff during the recession contributed to the delays. In 2012, the agency cut six positions. Licensing staff had no direct manager for nearly two years and investigators faced high turnover and high caseloads.

Also contributing to delays: the agency’s complicated, paper-based licensing system, and an inadequate agency website that does not provide answers to basic licensing questions.

The Agency and Commission Need a Sharper Focus on Performance

In 2015, the Oregon Legislature approved license fee increases – the first in 10 years. The increase will allow the agency to add four new positions and replace its outdated licensing system. Starting in early 2016, applicants should be able to file applications and pay online. The Commission also finished a three-year process of simplifying license requirements.

Some improvements are already apparent. Average call hold times fell to less than five minutes last summer, down from 30 minutes in 2014.

tspcpic2Investigators are testing a case triage system that could help reduce investigation lengths. The simpler license requirements and new licensing system should also help improve licensing speeds.

However, we found that the agency still lacks clear expectations and accountability for its performance at all levels, from the Commission through staff.

Evaluations are sporadic, including the Commission’s evaluation of the executive director. Performance tracking is limited. Management’s focus on work process improvement is minimal. Tensions between management and staff have also been substantial, affecting agency performance.

The fee increase will provide for a more stable financial position and help improve staffing. These improvements should allow the agency to focus on building a more productive workplace at all levels, one of its most significant tasks going forward.

Recommendations

Our specific recommendations for management and the Commission are included on pages 25 to 27 of the report. We made recommendations to improve licensing, investigations and customer service.

For management, we also made recommendations to improve the agency’s work environment, such as improving communication, developing performance standards, and providing timely feedback on employee progress.

For the Commission, we made recommendations to improve oversight and accountability. Among them: developing goals for the executive director that include reducing the agency’s backlogs, and conducting regular evaluations based on those goals.

Agency Response

The agency and Commission generally agreed with our recommendations and said they are already addressing some of them. The Commission will prioritize resolving backlogs in licensing and investigations, the response said, and implement changes to improve agency oversight, enhance transparency and increase effectiveness. The full response is at the end of the report.

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