Audit Report 1031

Audit Report 1031

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City of Los Angeles Office of the Controller Performance Audit of the Department of City Planning’s Case Processing Function October 31, 2005 Laura N. Chick City Controller TABLE OF CONTENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY .........................................................................................................ii Exhibit 1: Summary of Recommendations............................. v INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND.................................................................................... 1 AUDIT RESULTS I. Workflow and Structure............................................................................... 4 II. Guidance and Standards...........13 III. Public Hearings...........................................................................................14 IV. Use of Technology and Electronic Information................................16 V. Performance Reporting .............................................19 VI. User Fees and Cost Recovery................................22 VII. Longer Term Initiatives ...........................................24 APPENDICES A. Ranking of Recommendations B. Glossary of Acronyms C. City Survey Results D. Flowcharts: Case Intake at Downtown Public Counter E. Flowcharts: Zoning Administration Case Processing F. Flowcharts: Subdivision Case Processing G. Flowcharts: Commission Case Processing i PERFORMANCE AUDIT OF ...

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City of Los Angeles Office of the Controller 
 
Performance Audit of the Department of City  Palnnings  Case Processing Function  
  October 31, 2005  
  Laura N. Chick City Controller 
 
TABLE OFCSNTTEON 
EECXTUVI ESUMMARY..................ii.... ................................................................................... Exhibit 1: Summary of Recommendations ............................................................. v INTRODUCTION ANDBACKGROUND............................................ 1........................................
AUDITRESULTS I. Workflow and Structure ............................................................................... 4 II. Guidance and Standards ........................................................................... 13 III. Public Hearings........................................................................................... 14 IV. Use of Technology and Electronic Information ................................ 16 V. Performance Reporting ............................................................................. 19 VI. User Fees and Cost Recovery ................................................................ 22 VII. Longer Term Initiatives ........................................................................... 24
ASCEIDNEPP A. Ranking of Recommendations B. Glossary of Acronyms C. City Survey Results D. Flowcharts: Case Intake at Downtown Public Counter E. Flowcharts: Zoning Administration Case Processing F. Flowcharts: Subdivision Case Processing G. Flowcharts: Commission Case Processing 
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EXCETUVI ESYUMMRA 
 The City Controller’s Auditing Division, in concert with the independent planning expert Zucker Systems, conducted a performance audit of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning’s Case Processing Activities. The objective of the audit was to evaluate current practices used by the Department to receive, review and evaluate land use entitlement applications, and make recommendations for improvement.  Auditors analyzed timeframes for all cases processed during the audit period (approximately 3,000 cases) to determine if prescribed timeframes are being met, and to identify opportunities for efficiency through streamlining functions and overall process improvement. Auditors also reviewed approximately 300 case files to verify the existence of documents necessary to support a final determination. To evaluate the effectiveness of current case processing activities, auditors relied on the subject area expertise of Zucker Systems in recommending changes to current operations.  The audit was conducted in accordance with Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards. The scope includes cases completed from July 2003 through February 2005; however, fieldwork, including discussions with stakeholders, extended through August 2005. Case processing functions reviewed include those associated with the public counter, zoning administration, subdivisions, commissions, expedited services, and case management.  Our audit found that given its current operational structure, the Department has not consistently met case processing deadlines established by State law or its own internal standards. The Department has stated that inadequate staffing prohibits timely processing. Our audit did not validate or negate that claim; however, we noted the department has a significant number of vacant staff positions. We focused on operational improvements that may increase overall efficiency and improve customer service. Therefore, in considering the recommendations presented in this report, as with any significant change to operations, it may be necessary to revise staffing patterns, including the number and function of employees responsible for case processing activities.
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SUMMARY OF AUDIT RESULTS  The Department is organized around specialized, isolated functions that rely on multiple staff hand-offs to process each case. Most cases are handed off between at least four individuals: one each for intake, preparing the environmental clearance, processing, and clearing the conditions of approval. This type of operational structure is inefficient as multiple people must become familiar with each case and can be frustrating to customers as they have no single point of contact. We also noted impediments to efficiency resulting from ineffective public counter reviews, tardy submission of reports by other Departments, and delays in mailing the Letter of Determination.  Additional guidance and standards are needed. The Department last updated its policies and procedures manual for Zoning Administration, Subdivision, and Commission case processing functions in 1997 and has not created manuals for the public counter and the Expedited Unit. As a result, the Department has difficulty supporting efficient and consistent operations. In addition, no time limit has been established for taking cases under advisement following a public hearing. An unlimited time period provides no incentive for parties to reach a final determination.  The public hearing process can be improved. The Department does not use a consent calendar for commission hearings, which would allow commissioners more time to consider complicated or controversial cases, and alleviate time demands on city staff required to attend. We also observed that, in general, the Area Planning Commissioners did not uniformly enforce comment period time limits, nor encourage speakers to remain focused on a central point, creating a perception that processes are biased in favor of a person or group.  Use of technology and electronic information should be expanded. Current systems do not enable staff to efficiently create reports, which is further compounded by the Department’s use of a word processing software that is not compatible with other city departments. The Department does not make staff reports available to customers on the Internet, and thousands of case file documents have not yet been scanned into the Planning Document Imaging System. We also found that the Department has not established standards that specify which documents should be retained in both paper and electronic files, which has resulted in inconsistently maintained case files.  Current performance measures do not present a complete picture of total case processing activities. The Department’s measurement of total case processing time begins after the application is determined complete and the environmental clearance is published. This total measure does not consider when the application was received at the public counter, or time spent on preparing the environmental
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review. In addition, our audit noted errors in the data used to report performance, rendering the measured timeframes inaccurate. Division level managers indicated they do not consult the Department’s performance report because the information is not useful to them.  The Department’s Expedited Unit does not currently meet the demand for expedited services. While developers are willing to pay additional fees if significant time can be cut from overall processing, the Department has not been able to meet the demand for this service, even with full cost recovery. We also noted questionable charges on interdepartmental invoices for expedited work.  The Department currently has 56 vacant staff positions. As a result, the Department has been fulfilling case processing responsibilities through a combination of staff overtime and ad-hoc transfers.  The location of case processing functions creates inefficiencies and inconveniences for customers and staff. The City’s two one-stop centers have consolidated intake functions for many development activities; however, all other Department functions and the subdivision public counter are located in City Hall. In addition, the subdivision public counter facility is poorly equipped to handle case intake.  Finally, as the Department’s case processing function is primarily organized by application type, it is nearly impossible for staff to become significantly knowledgeable about the city’s 35 community plans and 44 specific plans.  Recommendations that address these issues are presented in Exhibit 1.  A draft audit report was provided to Department of City Planning management on October 7, 2005. An exit conference was conducted on October 17, 2005, where audit and consultant staff discussed the findings and recommendations noted in the draft report with the Director and his staff. The Department’s comments during the exit conference were considered prior to finalizing the report.
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I. Workflow and Structure Recommendation 1.1. 1.1 Department management restructure the public counter intake and case assignment processes so that: a) Intake staff is responsible for ensuring that all required application documents have been submitted. b) Application files are no longer reviewed by senior counter staff; and, instead, are forwarded to the appropriate division within two days. c) Cases are assigned to a planner immediately upon receipt from the public counter. d)The planner assigned to the case conducts the qualitative review of the file to deem it complete. Files should not be returned to the Public Counter.  Recommendation 1.2 Department management instruct: Planners assigned to expedited and subdivision cases to also handle case intake and condition clearing. a) Current subdivision counter staff can assume other case processing responsibilities. b) Maintain at least one subdivision counter employee to manage and monitor this function.  Recommendation 1.3 Department management instruct planners assigned to Zoning Administration and Commission cases to also handle condition clearing for their cases.  Recommendation 1.4 Department management instruct the planner assigned to the case to also prepare the environmental clearance.   a) During the transition, staff currently conducting negative declarations should train other planners on preparing environmental clearance. b) Negative declaration CEQA staff should eventually be transferred to other units. c) Adopt a standard of 14 days after receipt of any required technical reports in which the negative declaration should be completed.  Recommendation 1.5 Department management work with reviewing departments to: a) Bring report submittals within the current deadline of 39 days. b) Work towards obtaining review reports within 21 days.
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 Recommendation 1.6 Department management consider scheduling tract map hearings prior to receipt of the reviewing departments’ reports.    Recommendation 1.7 Department management revise the procedures for writing the LOD. a) Planners assigned to each case should draft the LOD and forward it to the CEAs for final edits and mailing. b) Adopt a new standard of mailing all LODs within 14 days of the public hearing. Establish a goal of 90% for meeting or exceeding this standard.  Recommendation 1.8 Department management expand the role of Zoning Investigator. a) Zoning Investigators should be directly responsible for the case, including preparing reports that contain recommendations, findings and draft conditions. b) Zoning Administrators should provide formal training and mentoring to the Zoning Investigators. c) Pair Zoning Investigators with Zoning Administrators to foster a strong working relationship.  Recommendation 1.9 Department management disband the Case Management Unit, though retain a coordinator function to facilitate assigning planners from the appropriate divisions to handle the case from the pre-filing phase through completion.   II. Guidance and Standards Recommendation 2.1 Department management develop and distribute written policies and procedures for all case processing activities.  Recommendation 2.2 Department management adopt a Departmental standard to limit the length of time that a case can be taken under advisement to no more than 90 days.  III. Public Hearings Recommendation 3.1 Department management consider using a consent calendar for commission hearings and develop specific criteria for projects to be placed on the calendars.  Recommendation 3.2 Department management offer regularly scheduled, continuous training courses for commissioners emphasizing the importance of conducting well-managed public hearings.  
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IV. Use of Technology and Electronic Information Recommendation 4.1 Department management bring PDIS up to date by ensuring that case file documents for all cases completed in 2003, 2004, and 2005 are imported and/or scanned.  Recommendation 4.2 Department management revise current process for updating PDIS: a) The assigned planner handling the case should ensure that appropriate documents are in PDIS; b) Whenever possible, import electronic documents or files directly into PDIS; c) Limit reliance on clerical staff by making scanning workstations available within each division.  Recommendation 4.3 Department management emphasize the reduction of redundant data entry operations: a) Consider adopting a word processing software compatible with reviewing departments. b) Create a uniform report styles program.  Recommendation 4.4 Department management make reports available to the public on the Internet prior to the public hearing.  Recommendation 4.5 Department management specify in the Departmental policies and procedural manual which case file documents are considered essential to the case file history, and therefore should be maintained in archives, both in hardcopy paper files and electronically, in PDIS.  V. Performance Reporting Recommendation 5.1 Department management expand the use of outcome measures to measure the quality of Departmental case processing performance.  Recommendation 5.2 Department management instruct the Systems Support Group to strengthen input controls on automated systems to ensure accuracy of all dates.  Recommendation 5.3 Department management instruct division level managers to collaborate with the Systems Support Group to develop additional reports to monitor division performance.  Recommendation 5.4 Department management report performance data as the median rather than mean, and as the percentage achieving the stated standards for all
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