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Director of performance audits leaving for consulting, Volcker group

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on July 4, 2013 at 5:58 pm with No Comments »
July 4, 2013 9:36 pm

The director of performance audits at the state auditor’s office, Larisa Benson, is leaving this month after five years to become a consultant. Using voter-approved powers, Benson’s group dived into ways to improve state printing, liquor stores, K-12 school benefits and more.

Benson will do consulting work for governments as part of The Athena Group while also working locally on behalf of a national group, the Volcker Alliance. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker set up the national organization this year. It’s a think tank that will make recommendations on government performance.

The director of the alliance, Shelley Metzenbaum, will talk about its goals July 16 at South Puget Sound Community College. Details are on this invitation, which says State Auditor Troy Kelley and Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff, Mary Alice Heuschel, will also speak. Heuschel will be talking about Inslee’s coming “Results Washington” initiative (formerly GMAP) dealing with performance in government. There’s also an event the same day at the University of Washington.

Benson said she likes where Kelley’s office is headed in his first year but she wants to pursue other goals and have flexibility to spend more time with her teenage daughter. She looked back on her time with the auditor’s office in two e-mails to colleagues:

From: Larisa Benson
Sent: Tuesday, July 02, 2013 5:13 PM
To: LGPC Leadership Group
Subject: all things evolve

My dear leadership team members,

Lots of news to report on a sweltering summer day.  First and foremost: the legislators have gone home, and we survived the budget!  What a session. Many ups and downs, some hard won victories and many losses – we live to fight another day.

Thank you for the many ways you lent your professional credibility to our shared vision: all governments = high performing organizations.  Clearly we’re on to something!

Second: I’m moving to a different professional mode with the same mission.  Later this month, I’ll be joining The Athena Group, a local consulting consortium led by Faith Trimble that really matches my personal and professional vision for the future of good government.  I’m excited to be part of a national movement while keeping my focus on local projects, blazing new trails in improving government through more effective execution of policies and emerging social technology, engaging people in creating strong, healthy communities.  You can learn more about what’s happening nationally if you attend our upcoming event at the UW on July 16 featuring Dr. Shelley Metzenbaum, President of theVolcker Alliance.

The Local Government Performance Center will remain a priority for Troy Kelley and the rest of the Auditor’s Office.  Sheri Sawyer, our Assistant Director since March, will lead the Center through its next evolutionary phase. Sheri’s breadth and depth of experience advocating for local government issues on the state level and her personal and professional connections with so many local leaders has already brought energy and credence to our mission.  I trust you will all continue to offer her your wisdom, your encouragement and your guidance.

Together we have accomplished so much.  In just a little over a year, you have inspired and achieved measurable breakthrough improvements in government service.  Will you take a moment to reflect on a few highlights?

  • ·       We’ve trained almost 1,500 government leaders and managers in a variety of performance improvement disciplines, from Performance Measurement Basics to Lean 101 for Government.  Our most recent training in Vancouver attracted over 150 participants!  Please let us know if you would like to schedule a training session for public servants in your area. 
  • ·       We published a summary report on declining financial conditions in local governments, and offered suggestions for improving the outlook.  At our retreat in April, you helped us identify financial stewardship as a key area of focus for 2013-15.  Look for more training, tools and assistance in this area, and closer collaboration with our local audit offices.  Sheri is convening our panel of experts in July, and will be featuring this area at AWC’s upcoming Municipal Budgeting Workshop in Leavenworth in August. 
  • ·       We’ve conducted performance assessments for Pierce CountyCity of DupontThurston County Sheriff’s Office and Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, and we’re working with Redmond’s Mayor and Council to bring their already outstanding performance leadership to a new level.  Don’t want to wait for an auditor to come?  Conduct your own self-assessment using our online tool. 
  • ·       Our Lean Academy, focusing on permit streamlining has helped Clark, Island, Douglas and Whatcom counties replicate Kitsap County’ssuccess in reinventing their permit processes to achieve significant improvements.  Whatcom now offers same day service for some permits! 
  • ·       We helped Walla Walla and Covington engage their citizens through citizen surveys, and we published the survey templates and guidance online.  Our long term vision is a portal of comparable data that can help jurisdictions assess where they are doing well, where they can improve, and which Washington neighbors they should connect with to learn how to perform even better. 
  • ·       Our website includes over 150 downloadable tools, templates, case studies and “how-to” practical tips to help government work better, cost less and be more responsive to our customers and citizens.  Coming soon is a series of new case studies and profiles in good government – featuring the cities of Buckley, Redmond, Prosser and Spokane, and an analysis of when to privatize (and when not to) based on a real case study in Okanogan County.

It’s a bit breath taking to review what we have already accomplished.  Can you imagine what we can achieve in the future?!

I can!  I continue to be inspired by your thoughtful leadership, your courage in confronting the considerable challenges of managing government and doing the people’s work, and your persistence in pursuing a vision where all of our communities are quality communities.  I am immeasurably grateful to you.

Larisa Benson

Director of Performance Audit

State Auditor’s Office



From: Larisa Benson 

Sent: Monday, June 24, 2013 4:21 PM

To: PA

Subject: and now . . .

Dear Performance Audit Team,

It’s been my great privilege to work with all of you since I joined SAO almost five years ago (can it be?!).  New opportunities have emerged for me to pursue in my life long mission to help people in public service succeed in improving the performance of public service organizations.

Together we’ve accomplished so much, well beyond what I was brought onboard to do, which was to get performance audits on a solid footing and build a team of professionals capable of consistently producing high quality audit reports. And what a great run it’s been! If you’ll forgive me, here’s an off-the-cuff highlights reel:

  • We have a solid track record of reports that have truly had a significant impact both in terms of saving money and improving performance. The calculations aren’t in yet, but I’ll wager that we’ll come close to, if not surpass, the $1 billion mark for actual savings reported by agencies for this year’s progress report. 
  • We have a fantastic and diverse array of talented newcomers and experienced professionals on our team, and we have designed creative and effective ways to manage our projects and work in teams toward shared goals.
  • Our May performance measures report shows our median time to publish audits is 11 months, compared to a previous median of almost twice that. With our new streamlined production process resulting from last week’s kaizen, I’m confident audits will run even leaner and better in the future. 
  • We’ve fundamentally reengineered the way we engage contractors, shifting from 69% of our work done by outside audit firms to conducting the audits ourselves, with contractors hired as subject matter experts (38%). 
  • We’ve significantly improved our interactions with clients, increasing communication, conflict resolution, transparency, participation and engagement. Our clients are now adopting our recommendations before we even publish our reports, which means government is saving money and improving service to citizens faster. 
  • Our reports have a new visual format that is shorter, cleaner and easier to read and understand (and looks beautiful!) 
  • Our local government performance center has reached over 1,800 participants in our training sessions and we’ve helped local governments across the state measurably improve their services to citizens. 
  • We’re on a path to integrate in even more meaningful and efficient ways of working together with the state and local auditors and using lean to improve our team effectiveness.

Today I have a chance to join The Athena Group, a consulting consortium that really matches my personal and professional vision for the future of good government. This career path offers me the opportunity to be part of a national movement as well as local projects, blazing new trails in improving government through more effective execution of policies and emerging social technology to engage people in creating strong, healthy communities. It will also allow me more flexibility to be present in Alina’s life while she’s in these crucial teen age years.

I have no doubts that you will be exceeding expectations in the years to come. You are an amazing team and you have helped me to grow in ways I didn’t even think were possible. I remain invested in your success as a team, and as people whom I have come to know and love through hard work toward a shared vision of good government.

Larisa Benson

Director of Performance Audit

State Auditor’s Office

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