Maybe the headline should be “man bites dog” but there’s a bit of good news on council’s Tuesday agenda: a vast improvement in timely approval of contracts. Our performance audit “Most Contracts Executed Timely but Contract Project Managers Could Use Better Tools and Guidance” tells the story.

The bigger story here, to me, is the many more substantial improvements I’ve seen in nearly 21 years of auditing city programs and performance. Whether I look at our 2004 audit of contracts, our 1999 report on benefits and payroll processing, or our 2000-01 audits on performance standards for community agency contracts, I’m proud of what city staff has achieved since then, and how our audits played a part in improving service to the community.

City staff has improved stewardship of resources and service delivery in spite of declining resources and inefficient software and systems.

  • Just as we reported in 2004, we have a “contract management system” in name only. Management addressed all of our issues but one: installing a software system to free up staff time to monitor performance instead of shuffling paper. In spite of this, and even after losing the Contract Administrator position through budget cuts, Finance staff has noticeable improved oversight of contracts.
  • Quality controls over employee pay and benefits accuracy have improved since our 1999 performance audit, but employees still enter time on paper time cards that are routed to supervisors for signature, to payroll clerks for time entry, and then to Payroll Audit for quality control. Pieces of paper still move through three different departments to complete a transaction as simple as an employee address change. The good news? First, that staff managed to improve the controls and security of the paper-based systems in spite of delays in replacing the software. More recently, the city took a step forward by funding a contract through the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) to identify steps and costs to modernize the system. The city will probably need to replace the FUND$ Payroll-Personnel system, which may involve replacing the FUND$ financial accounting software – a big ticket item. Council will need to allocate funds not only for software but for substantial time and expertise from city staff who are knowledgeable about user needs, software systems, and accounting – exactly the kind of staff that is becoming difficult to retain and replace in the current economy.
  • The city is making progress on the technology front, too, in ways that directly benefit the public. Planning’s Permit Center should improve the timeliness of customer service once their new software enables them to Monitor Performance to Ensure Excellent and Equitable Customer Service by implementing the recommendations for improved performance oversight we presented to Council as a March 2014 action item on construction permits.
  • Direct services to Berkeley’s most vulnerable residents have been strengthened by steady improvements in the oversight and assistance of city staff. In the years since we issued Community Agency Monitoring and Assessment of Job Training/Job Placement Programs, the city improved systems, communications, and performance expectations. In Shelter Plus Care: Fully Compliant but Vulnerable to Staffing Cuts , we reported that, in spite of budget cuts, Berkeley’s Department of Health, Housing and Community Services (DHHCS) successfully administered Shelter Plus Care, a program funded by the federal Department of Urban Development (HUD). Services were delivered to the most hard-to-serve of the homeless population in accordance with federal regulations, reducing the risk of having to return funds, and increasing the likelihood of future funding. This was accomplished with just 2.3 employees; 62 per cent of HUD’s suggested level for managing this complex program. We found that DHHCS’ success was due to staff’s commitment and in-depth knowledge of the program.

We always find room for improvement when we audit city systems, but we also find talented, creative, and dedicated people doing the work, in the city workforce and in the community agencies. We find performance that is continuously improving, and a continuing need for better systems to support the progress.

Please visit our website at www.cityofberkeley.info/Auditor and sign up for our very occasional ee-newsletter. Find out more about:

  • What’s going wrong and what’s going right with city of Berkeley programs and performance
  • Audits in the works: equitable hiring, ethics in the workplace, refuse billing, and aligning city-funded community agency services with Berkeley’s 2020 Vision for Children and Youth
  • Upcoming recruitments for two experienced performance auditorsL

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions, as Word documents or embedded in the email, to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Ann-Marie Hogan has served the community as Berkeley’s elected City Auditor since Dec. 1994. She believes that independent performance auditing is a powerful force for change, and that objective and constructive audits are the best way to speak truth to power in a way that can be heard.

Ann-Marie Hogan has served the community as Berkeley’s elected City Auditor since Dec. 1994. She believes that independent performance auditing is a powerful force for change, and that objective and constructive audits are the best way to speak truth to power in a way that can be heard.