• King County Capitol Projects Oversight Manager Tina J. Rogers is working with King County Councilmember Jane Hague on finding the resources to properly improve Factoria Transfer Station to alleviate future costs due to preventable delays and risks.  Photo by Daniel Berman for Public Works.
    King County Capitol Projects Oversight Manager Tina J. Rogers is working with King County Councilmember Jane Hague on finding the resources to properly improve Factoria Transfer Station to alleviate future costs due to preventable delays and risks. Photo by Daniel Berman for Public Works.

Taxpayers could care less about the difference between the legislative (your council) and executive (you) branches of government. To them, an over-budget, often-delayed project is just another example of government waste. Period.

That puts you in an interesting position. Many of you are low-key individuals who'd prefer to stay out of the spotlight. Yet you and your teams oversee some of the highest-profile taxpayer-funded projects. The only constituency that’s more irritated when something goes wrong are the officials those taxpayers elected.

Our cover subject has implemented a system designed to keep both staff and elected officials out of the hot seat. King County, Wash., encompasses 39 cities and 167 taxing jurisdictions within 2,300 square miles, has an annual budget of $4.5 billion, and employs 12,000 people. If something that big can successfully herd cats —and it looks like it can—then this is definitely an idea worth stealing.

Four years ago, the county’s council adopted an ordinance requiring the Capital Projects Oversight program in the auditor’s office to develop a scoring instrument for identifying and monitoring the projects with the greatest inherent risk. The result was twofold:

  • a form that generates empirical data in the form of a project’s “risk score”
  • a process that forces project managers and elected officials to talk about the riskiest projects before they go off the rails.

It’s a bit early to determine the correlation between a project’s risk score and its performance. But an organization of 12,000 employees is much more attuned to the concept of risk. Project directors are better informed about their managers’ challenges.

And elected officials have a head’s up on the projects that will require additional scrutiny. That’s a major step toward keeping them happy.