September 14th, 2007
One of the major reasons we opposed Initiative 900 two years ago was because we feared the potential for abuse of the performance audit as a tool to ensure good government.
Today, suspicious of the gleeful rhetoric used by opponents of transportation agencies such of Sound Transit expressing their happiness that audits will be released right before an election with a major package on the ballot (Roads & Transit) David Goldstein filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out if auditors have been communicating with those opponents (Tim Eyman, Ted Van Dyk, etc.) behind the scenes, leaking information:
Performance audits are not comparable to financial audits in either scope or purpose. You don’t just bring in a third party to examine the books in search of waste, fraud or abuse, but rather, you observe and analyze the performance of an agency and its procedures for the purpose of recommending changes that could lead to greater efficiencies. While in a worst case scenario a performance audit could conclude that an agency does not fulfill its mission at all, it is mostly meant as a productivity tool, and as such requires the full cooperation of the management and staff being audited if it is to be effective. If instead, performance audits are used as a means to politically punish and embarrass an agency — including, say, influencing elections — then future audits on other agencies will never gain the inside trust and cooperation necessary to conduct them.
Yes, voters deserve to know how well Sound Transit and WSDOT are spending our money before we vote them more of it, but if these audits are perceived to be politically motivated hatchet jobs, their reports won’t be worth the paper they’re written on. And if officials within the auditor’s office or the outside contractors have been improperly communicating with opponents of the Roads & Transit measure, soliciting their input and leaking results, then I can’t see how these so-called “performance audits” can be understood to be genuine performance audits at all, let alone impartial and unbiased.
The FOIA results should be telling – we’ll be waiting to see what gets disclosed.