Audit finds accountability issues in King County’s equity and social justices programs

Auditors say the county lacks progress tracking, clearly defined roles and accountability measures.

On March 23, the King County Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee received a presentation from the King County Auditor’s Office outlining some of the recent finding from their audit of the county’s equity structures and processes across, with a focus on the Office of Equity, Racial, and Social Justice agency.

Anupreet Sidhu with the King County Auditor’s Office, began the presentation with a timeline of the county’s equity and social justice efforts. In 2015, the county established the Office of Equity, Racial & Social Justice, or OERSJ, as an agency to help push forward the county’s equity and diversity goals, and in 2020 the county declared racism a public health crisis for the region.

When examining these initiatives, programs and agencies, auditors found several key takeaways; there have been a lack of clear roles and responsibilities related to these agencies and initiatives, the governmental structure of OERSJ is “underdeveloped,” and there is a lack of goal and progress monitoring which can limit the accountability of these government programs.

Sidhu said that since 2020, the requests that OERSJ has received for consultation and recommendations for best equity practices has tripled, indicating that there is an increased regional effort towards equity and social justice in the area. However, Sidhu said that auditors found that there are unclear roles, responsibilities and jurisdictions between different equity initiatives and agencies under the county government and they lack clear definitions of goals and responsibilities.

Auditors also suggested that programs such as the county’s Equity and Social Justice Initiative launched in 2008, lack a “process owner,” or an officer who is in charge of the program, who can monitor and report progress towards goals. Auditors recommended adopting a “process owner” to improve accountability.

Sidhu also said that these programs and agencies often have “underdeveloped” governance structures, at times lacking clear goals, strategies, policies, and metrics that would help and organization plan and govern their work.

Auditors also found that baseline data was collected when the OERSJ was established in 2015, but since then, those metrics and community indicators have not been revisited.

Sidhu said there are “no systems to consistently monitor [Equity and Social Justice Initiative] strategic plan goals,” meaning the county “risks losing momentum, or investing in the wrong strategies.”

With no plan to regularly track and report community indicator data, auditors warn that not only can the county not track the progress and impact of their efforts, but they also risk damaging the relationship that the programs have with the community, as the public may grow skeptical of the program without transparency.

Anita Whitfield, Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer with the Office of Equity, Racial & Social Justice testified to the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee following the report. She said she “generally agreed” with the themes and issues identified by the auditor’s office.

She also said that while there is no “overarching system” to measure the impact of the county’s programs and efforts, the impact and benefit can be seen when examining programs such as Health Through Housing which has directly put hundreds of unhoused individuals into permanent supportive housing.

Whitfield maintained that King County is still a “national leader” in its equity, racial and social justice efforts.

The full audit report can be found here.