The Joint Office of Homeless Services, the Portland Arts Tax, gun violence prevention, and climate justice initiatives will all be under the microscope by Portland auditors over the next year.
Portland City Auditor Simone Rede’s office released the list of audit topics for the 2023-24 fiscal year, highlighting an effort to evaluate whether the city’s systems and initiatives are working for the public as intended.
“In developing this audit schedule, I looked for ways our work could impact public health, safety and equity, and respond to current and future needs affecting leaders and residents,” Rede noted in a June 28 memo to City Council.
Rede was elected city auditor in 2022, replacing Mary Hull Caballero.
“My final selection was based on opportunities I saw to provide adequate and timely coverage to inform the City’s transition to a new form of government,” Rede noted. “This list reflects the greatest areas of concern for Portlanders and potential to build trust.”
City auditors will focus on two aspects of the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS)–shelter services and the rapid rehousing program–as the Multnomah County auditor also investigates the city-county program’s data collection and performance.
In recent months, JOHS has come under scrutiny by Portland’s elected leaders. In renewing an annual contract agreement with JOHS in May, city commissioners said they wanted more transparency and better outcomes on homelessness spending from the joint office, opting to revisit the contract in December and decide whether to terminate its partnership altogether.
A similar vote last month to extend the intergovernmental agreement for another fiscal year drew opposition from Commissioners Rene Gonzalez and Mingus Mapps, again related to concerns over how the county is spending homeless services money and what improvements have been made.
Gonzalez cited “significant concerns” with the agreement, noting $1.6 billion in expenditures by the city and “large sums of unspent money” in the county’s coffers and a perceived lack of influence or say over how Multnomah County spends the city’s portion of funds on homelessness programs.
The list of upcoming government performance audits also includes a look at the city’s approach to managing its assets, the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s oversight of the Vision Zero program, Portland Fire & Rescue’s workload management, fiscal management of the Parks & Recreation bureau, IT contracts, and inclusionary housing policies.
Each audit will likely take around 10 months to a year to complete, said KC Jones, director of Portland’s audit services division.
Past audit reports have focused on ways to ensure spending efficiency and proper oversight of programs like the Portland Clean Energy Fund, recommended changes to the city's enhanced service districts, and the need to ensure the public's civil rights are being maintained amid police surveillance.
Jones said auditors are typically reviewing government functions for “best practices, better ways of doing things, and system improvement from management.”
The audits division also includes the city's elections office, manages lobbying regulations, and oversees a fraud hotline, where the public and city employees can report suspected fraud, abuse, or waste or city resources.
Jones added that the current slate of audit topics represents a push toward work that will ultimately empower Portlanders and improve their lives, via improved government functioning and services.
“Our value is only as strong as us working on things that matter to people,” Jones said. “We’re trying to do that front-end investment and work through our projects to make sure we are looking at things … that people care about. When we make our report, we’re making sure to reflect folks’ lived experience and looking at the parts that, if they were improved, could have the most benefit to folks.”
Regarding climate justice, auditors will review Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, focusing on measuring success of initiatives the bureau is tasked with overseeing.
A slew of topics recommended by the former auditor, including training for police supervisors, code enforcement and rental property inspections, and “the potential for the city’s administrative burden to limit success of non-profit partners in delivering critical public services" won't be investigated by the current team, at least not immediately.
The decision not to explore the administration of nonprofit contracts comes as several service organizations have urged city leaders to improve contracts with nonprofit service providers, noting delays in payment from the city, low wages, and the near cessation of operations by one tenant group, despite getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in city funds.
In her memo to City Council, Rede noted "new topics may be substituted or added if higher priority issues emerge."