During three decades of newspaper reporting and performance auditing, I have focused on in-depth work that holds government accountable and shines a light on issues that matter. As Multnomah County’s auditor, I would do the same.
Performance auditors scrutinize government programs for potential improvements, then issue public reports on what they find. Like the best reporting, good performance auditing requires the ability to dig deep, analyze data, recognize patterns, build sources, handle conflict and retain a respectful skepticism.
During the Great Recession, Oregon prioritized cash payments to the poorest families. As the economy recovers, the state needs to do more to help clients move toward jobs and self-sufficiency.
2015 Excellence in Accountability Award – National State Auditor’s Association
Debts owed to the State have almost doubled since 2008, to nearly $3.2 billion. The state needs a sustained focus to improve collections. 2016 Impact Award – National Conference of State Legislators
Despite recent service improvements, the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission needs to increase accountability and boost agency performance to respond to backlogs in issuing licenses, investigating complaints against educators, and responding to educator questions.
Business Oregon, the state’s primary economic development agency, can strengthen its evaluation of incentives and loans given to private businesses. The agency can also help improve the transparency of individual business awards by better reporting information about them to the public and policy makers.
Want to reduce Oregon’s high school dropout problem?
Then we need to make a better effort with the students who attend alternative and online schools. These at-risk students, some of the most vulnerable in the state, comprise nearly half of the state’s dropouts. In our latest audit report, we developed 15 recommendations for the Oregon Department of Education to improve that performance.
The audit is a great example of what performance audits can accomplish when auditors focus on issues that matter most, and talk in-depth with the people most most affected — in this case students and teachers. I’m proud of my audit team’s work.
Oregon’s most vulnerable children are being placed into a foster care system that has serious problems. Child welfare workers are burning out and consistently leaving the system in high numbers. The supply of suitable foster homes and residential facilities is dwindling, resulting in some children spending days and weeks in hotels. Foster parents are struggling with limited training, support and resources. Agency management’s response to these problems has been slow, indecisive and inadequate. DHS and child welfare managers have not strategically addressed caseworker understaffing, recruitment and retention of foster homes, and a poorly implemented computer system that leaves caseworkers with inadequate information.
Scott’s scrutiny of government, including local government, began early. These “Little Kingdoms” articles, part of a series in the Lexington (Ky) Herald-Leader, date to 1994.
Scott spent most of his journalism career — 17 years — at The Oregonian, writing hundreds of articles covering east Multnomah County schools, Portland City Hall, higher education, Portland Public Schools, urban issues and the environment. Below are excerpts from nine of them:
Local Government Accountability
Project records, emails and correspondence show county missteps complicated by bad advice from the Oregon Department of Transportation and failures by the county’s contractor. For its part, the county signed the contract despite the doubts of its own bridge department and provided no specifications on how a crucial pollution containment system should be built.
Eighteen days before the Water Bureau flipped on its malfunctioning computer billing system, the bureau’s own technical test team warned that “many big defects have not been fixed” and recommended delaying the go-live date. Instead, city officials chose to turn on the system as scheduled. Sixteen months later, the new billing software still isn’t working properly, contributing to a $30 million drop in cash flows and boosting water and sewer rates.
When the Council approved a deal to turn Civic Stadium over to private investors, it didn’t know city staff had projected that returns for the investors, including some of the city’s wealthiest businessmen, would average 55% a year for 20 years. The deal, protected by a confidentiality agreement with investors, required the city to issue $33 million in public debt for stadium renovations.
In-Depth Local Issues
Thousands of home buyers have stepped through the looking glass into Multnomah County’s Alice-in-Wonderland property tax system, where a combination of an unorthodox 1996 statewide measure, torrid appreciation in select neighborhoods and dumb luck are conspiring to unhinge residential property taxes from reality. The gap is going to get worse — and more unfair.
After decades as a criminal and a self-admitted dope fiend, David Fitzgerald is steering other ex-cons through a drug rehabilitation program that really works. When the Multnomah County funded mentor program began, about half the addicts who went through detox failed to even start drug treatment. An independent review in the program’s first year found participation shot up to 85 percent among mentored clients, and completion of Central City Concerns recovery program nearly tripled. Fitzgerald knows firsthand that addicts can change. But “it ain’t for the faint of heart,” he says.
An infiill-housing boom in one of Multnomah County’s most affordable areas has spiked student enrollment at the school, attracting immigrant families from Mexico, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Vietnam, China, Laos, Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and Hong Kong, among other places. From east Portland to Beaverton to Gresham, schools are seeing big demographic changes. More kids. More languages. More poverty. Nowhere have the changes hit as fast and furious as at David Douglas.
Oregon ships an extra $59 million a year to school districts to teach non-English-speaking students, but the state and the districts can’t say what the students get for the money. Most school districts don’t verify whether programs work, even though state law requires them to. The state doesn’t track how the extra money is spent. And neither the state nor most districts document whether students keep up academically or how quickly they learn to read and write English.
The 115 staff members for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Environmental Council, Ecotrust, Oregon Wild and the Audubon Society of Portland include two Latinos, two Asian Americans, one Native American and no African Americans, their leaders say. Ecotrust has two Native Americans on its board. Of the 56 board members for the four other groups, 55 are white and one is Asian American.
In the late 1990s the Hanford nuclear reservation’s British contractor designed the world’s largest nuclear waste treatment plant around a fateful feature: “black cells.” Fifteen years, a new set of contractors and $8 billion of construction later, the U.S. Department of Energy is still trying to figure out whether they’ll work. The black cells will be so radioactive that human beings won’t be allowed in, and remote access is limited. They’ll have to operate with “perfect reliability” for 40 years, the GAO says, for the plant along the Columbia River to work as designed.