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Case History: City of Portland, Oregon

By 1990, the Portland City Auditor’s Office had developed an interest in the emerging performance reporting research by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), which the GASB called “service efforts and accomplishments (SEA) reporting.”  By then, the City Auditor’s Office already had years of experience in performance auditing (Practice 1a. Audit performance).  The Auditor’s Office was especially interested in how performance reporting suggested by the GASB research could be used to improve accountability in Portland.  In Portland, the City Auditor is separately elected and thus has greater autonomy in determining audit staff initiatives than audit offices that report to management or legislative bodies.  So the City Auditor’s Office could readily translate its interest in the GASB SEA research into a project to test the feasibility of external performance reporting (Practice 5b. Report performance) in Portland, which led to Portland’s first SEA Report in 1991.  To make SEA reports credible and useful, the City Auditor engaged city agencies to identify measures for public reporting (Practice 3a. Help choose measures or targets) and to test the relevance and reliability of agency measures and data (Practice 2a. Test relevance or reliability) to be included in the SEA report.  The City Auditor’s Office also conducted surveys of citizen perceptions and satisfaction outside the regular audit process (Practice 3b. Collect data), and reported results in the SEA report.  Through the 1990s, the City Auditor’s Office continued, each year, to do performance audits, conduct citizen surveys, and issue SEA reports.

In 1999, a newly-elected City Auditor maintained those efforts under the Director of Audits, and also took on non-audit staff of the Portland-Multnomah Progress Board, a board of public and private community leaders co-chaired by the Portland Mayor and the Multnomah County Chair.  For the Progress Board, these staff compile and publicly report data on broad categories of outcomes (e.g., education, environment, economy, health, safety), locally called “benchmarks.”  To help policy makers and other external stakeholders interpret and use benchmark data (Practice 5c. Assist external decision making), since 2000 these staff have been issuing reports on in-depth studies related to some of the Progress Board’s highest priority benchmarks.

In 2002, the City Auditor’s Office built on its credibility in external reporting by investing significant staff time in assessing the city’s performance management practices overall (Practice 1b. Audit performance management systems).  The City Auditor leveraged the value of that effort by encouraging management (Practice 4a. Encourage management) and encouraging legislators (Practice 5a. External advocacy) to take on a major new initiative to enhance City performance management systems when it issued a special report proposing a new “managing for results” process for the city government. In early 2003 the City Council passed a resolution supporting development of such a system, and since then the City Auditor’s Office has been assisting management (Practice 4b. Assist management) in developing system requirements and agency training materials.  Beginning in 2003, SEA reports have been organized by bureau goal in order to use the report to reinforce managing for results and foster a “managing for results thought process” within the Bureaus and among City Council members.

The City Auditor’s Office has also increased its survey activity (Practice 3b. Collect data) to enhance satisfaction and perception results made available to citizens and decision makers.  In addition to its annual surveys of citizens, in 2003 the City Auditor’s Office began an annual survey of businesses in order to obtain business owners’ and managers’ perceptions of Portland conditions and City services that may affect their business.  This was followed in 2005 by a more detailed “neighborhood” level citizen survey to be performed in alternating years.  The neighborhood information collected is reported through an interactive feature on the City Auditor’s Office website (Practice 5b. Report performance) which allows citizens to view data on both a citywide and neighborhood level.  Citizen survey and business survey results are also reported, as before, in the annual SEA Report.

For its fiscal year 2004, 2005 and 2006 SEA reports (issued in 2005, 2006, and 2007), the City Auditor’s Office was recognized by the Sloan Foundation and the Association of Government Accountants with the “Certificate of Achievement in Service Efforts and Accomplishments Reporting,” one of the first three-time winners of this award.

In 2007, in an attempt to make external reporting more interesting and useful to citizens, the City Auditor’s Office created a four-page summary of City finances and service performance, issued in May 2007 as the Auditor’s Report to Residents (PDF).