The Seattle Office of the City Auditor (OCA) published a report today that found the Human Services Department (HSD) —which develops, executes, and oversees over 200 contracted services that make up the City’s social safety net—”is sufficiently managing the homeless services programs, contracts, and the City’s investments in homeless services,” and “service providers are generally meeting their contract terms.” OCA reviewed the portfolio of critical contracts that focuses on HSD’s homelessness response, such as outreach, case management, emergency services (such as tiny house villages and shelters), housing support, and prevention programs.
OCA conducted this audit in response to Seattle City Council President Lorena González’s request to review HSD’s management of the City’s homeless services contracts. The report examined: 1) HSD’s contract procurement, award and approval processes, 2) HSD’s contract administration and monitoring processes, 3) policies and program design for each type of homeless service, and 4) service provider compliance with contract terms and program requirements. The report includes eighteen recommendations for improving HSD’s management of homeless services contracts, homeless policy and program design, and service provider performance and contract compliance.
“We deeply appreciate the time, expertise, and partnership the City Auditor brought to this important review,” said Jason Johnson, HSD director. “I also want to thank HSD staff and service providers who helped complete this audit. We are pleased that OCA found HSD’s planning, contract management, program design, and service provider performance are being managed appropriately and that the department is a good steward of public dollars. HSD is committed to continuous improvement and has begun instituting OCA’s feedback in the department’s operations, in addition to initiatives already underway.”
It is important to note that HSD’s portfolio has expanded by 50% in recent years to meet the growing need in the community, but the operational resources necessary to manage this portfolio have not kept pace, leaving the department charged with managing investments that have grown in size and complexity, including additional performance measures which are a key part of the development and execution of these contracts. The OCA report found that despite this rapid growth in scale and detail, HSD continues to effectively manage these investments.
Further, once Council amends and adopts the Mayor’s budget, HSD staff have a short timeframe—approximately 23 business days—to incorporate Council’s changes and to return the contracts to service providers by the end of the fiscal year, which is a challenging and intensive task as recognized by the OCA.
Given the volume, time, and critical needs of managing, executing, and delivering contracts back to community, HSD has already adopted measures to increase efficiency. HSD has improved its process and oversight by updating software and procedural manuals to detail the contracting process for staff, implementing visual management tools and daily team huddles to produce real-time fiscal monitoring. Additionally, HSD has hired temporary staff to help manage contracts and has realigned compliance review to remove barriers and expedite timelines. The department has also formed a Continuous Quality Improvement Team to further evaluate and improve processes to effectively serve all residents of Seattle.
Understanding limited budget resources that are added to HSD’s portfolio must be first prioritized to supporting Seattle’s most vulnerable communities, an effective remedy for some these capacity challenges and timelines would be to further support HSD’s operational budget to better support staff and ensure even more effective contract delivery.
One significant update this year will be the transition and consolidation of contracts for homelessness services into the newly formed King County Regional Homelessness Authority. The feedback provided by OCA will help illuminate the development of the contract management process as this new authority is stood up.
HSD thanks the City Auditor, the service providers, and staff that worked to complete this important review. The department looks forward to working with the City Auditor in the future to further improve its service delivery.