County Council takes steps to improve construction oversight

March 9, 2010

By Staff

King County Council members took steps last week to increase oversight of major construction projects and accountability for government spending.

The legislation aims to address concerns about oversight of capital projects raised by the state auditor in a report released last summer. The report noted how the county had room to improve safeguards for construction management, as well as cash and asset management.

In response, the council approved a motion March 1 to consider legislation meant to address the concerns raised by the audit. The legislation categorizes capital projects determined to be at a greater risk of falling behind schedule or over budget as high-risk — for example, projects with a cost greater than $10 million.

The legislation aims for greater oversight through various means. Funding requirements will be tied to three project phases, including preliminary design, design and construction. The measure also added requirements to allow the county to evaluate whether projects meet tasks and spending targets.

Moreover, the legislation standardizes information submitted with all capital project appropriation requests to hold the projects accountable to planned scopes, schedules and budgets.

“The public wants and needs transparency to assure their tax dollars are being spent as efficiently as possible,” Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who represents Issaquah and serves as vice chairwoman of the council Budget and Fiscal Management Committee, said in a statement. “Complex projects demand many interim decisions and adjustments that the council should be making in the context of budgeting and providing the best service to the citizens.”

The legislation also directs the King County Auditor’s Office to conduct a two-year review of the new requirements to ensure the legislation achieves the desired objective.

Many of the strategies for improved oversight incorporated into the ordinance come from a 2007 report commissioned by the council to review capital projects oversight.

Councilman Reagan Dunn — who represents unincorporated King County south of Issaquah, as well as Newcastle and Bellevue — praised the legislation.

“We will no longer give a blank check to project managers in big, high-risk projects,” he said in the statement. “This legislation provides for check-in points, where the council can say no if the project isn’t working out.”

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