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ROLE 5: Assist Elected Officials or Citizens

External Reporting, Capacity Building, or advocacy for the Use of Performance Information

Practice 5d. Engage citizens: Engage citizens in determining performance goals, objectives, or measures.

Washington State Auditor [Profile]

The voters of the State of Washington expanded the State Auditor’s mandate in November 2005 by passing Initiative 900.  The State Auditor, an independently elected official, now has the authority to conduct performance audits of any state agency or local government, including educational institutions. I-900 dedicated 0.16 percent of the current state sales tax to support the program.  With such a large range of auditing options, the State Auditor has chosen to engage the public to help determine performance audit priorities. (See “Other Resources” below for more information on the performance auditing mandate)

Parts of the I-900 mandate refer to informing the public. Audited entities are required to hold public hearings within 30 days of the release of audit findings. For state agencies, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Audit Review have taken on that task. The State Auditor’s Office has gone much further, by engaging citizens in a series of focus groups, town hall meetings, surveys, and other means.

To meet an initial goal of gathering preliminary information on citizen perceptions of government and to help citizens gain an understanding of the performance auditing process, the State Auditor’s Office engaged 405 state residents in three focus groups held in eastern and western Washington in March 2006. The groups were selected to be representative of citizens based on age, gender, and those who were for or against I-900.

Before the focus groups, participants were asked to fill out surveys rating state programs on efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. From this questionnaire, citizens gave environmental/natural resource management and higher education the highest ratings. Government accountability was identified as the most vital measure of government performance, over both efficiency and effectiveness. Transportation, K-12 education, and health and social services were identified by participants as top performance auditing priorities.

The State Auditor is interested in what citizens mean by “accountability.” In the 2006 focus groups, people cited the need for consequences for government employee performance and transparency of government. In a 2008 statewide citizen survey, about 60 percent of respondents strongly agreed with those definitions and added two more elements of transparency as equally important: Access to information on who makes decisions and access to information on agency goals and performance.

After the March 2006 focus groups, four town hall meetings were convened the next month. Randomly selected registered voters—50 each from four different parts of the state—were asked to take part. A total of 188 citizens from 21 different legislative districts participated in the town hall meetings. Basic information gathered from the March questionnaires and focus groups was used to seed the discussion of the town hall meetings. Questionnaires were administered prior to each town hall and results discussed in the meetings. Citizens in the town halls verified the audit priorities from the focus groups and went further to provide their expectations for audits on those topics. A report was prepared based on interactive polling from the various town halls.

The State Auditor’s initial performance audits after passage of I-900 reflected the top citizen priorities of K-12 education, transportation, health and social services, and accountability. Of the first nine performance audits completed, one focused on how regional educational service districts were serving local school districts and students. Another audited the licensing system for medical providers, one audit reviewed agency systems related to public records requests (for transparency and accountability), and five were transportation-related. The transportation audits, while responding to the citizen engagement process, were directed by the state Legislature, which provided an additional $4 million for such audits.

The State Auditor is continuing community engagement efforts to expand the pool of citizens participating and to keep in touch with citizen concerns and priorities.  For example, additional town hall meetings have been held, telecasts with live call-ins have been used to enable more people to participate in discussions, and telephone keypad “voting” used to allow more citizens to participate in informing audit priorities.



Reports on Focus Groups, Surveys, and Town Hall Meetings, with links to Town Hall Videos


Other Resources:

I-900 Performance Auditing Mandate