Report 2011-116.1 Recommendations and Responses in 2013-041

Report 2011-116.1: Department of General Services: The Division of the State Architect Lacks Enforcement Authority and Has Weak Oversight Procedures, Increasing the Risk That School Construction Projects May Be Unsafe

Department Number of Years Reported As Not Fully Implemented Total Recommendations to Department Not Implemented After One Year Not Implemented as of 2012-041 Response Not Implemented as of Most Recent Response
Department of General Services 1 14 12 n/a 2

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To ensure public safety and provide public assurance that school districts construct projects in accordance with approved plans, the department, in conjunction with the division, should pursue legislative changes to the Field Act that would prohibit occupancy in cases in which the division has identified significant safety concerns.

Response

The objective of this recommendation has been achieved through the implementation of an inspection card process similar to that used in most municipalities throughout the state. On June 1, 2013, the inspection card process was implemented for all new construction projects. The process allows for verification of structural integrity and fire and life safety at the completion of each applicable phase of the project. The use of the inspection card will result in the timely certification of structural and fire and life safety upon completion of project construction. This initial certification may also identify outstanding items to be completed for full accessibility compliance, which will be required to be addressed by the project's owner within a prescribed timeline in order to achieve final certification of the project by DSA.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Will Not Implement
  • Completion Date: June 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To better use the enforcement tools at its disposal, the division should continue and expand its use of both orders to comply and stop work orders, as defined in its regulations. The division should also develop performance measures to assess the success of any efforts it makes to address safety concerns and reduce the number of uncertified projects.

Response

Effective January 1, 2013, DSA modified its policies for stop work orders and orders to comply to ensure the appropriate and consistent use of these enforcement tools as part of the construction project oversight function. The new process requires regional office managers to record the issuance of stop work orders and their resolution, and DSA headquarters' staff to monitor the regional office data entries and activities with respect to the orders.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: January 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To ensure that it clearly justifies the reasons a project's noted issues merit a particular classification, the division should either modify its current policies regarding classifying types of uncertified projects or develop new policies, including requiring documentation of the rationale behind project-specific classifications. It should use its classifications to prioritize its efforts to follow up on uncertified projects based on risk and to better inform the public regarding the reasons it has not certified projects.

Response

In October 2013, DSA issued new written procedures related to the certification process for completed construction projects. The procedures provide a required and prescribed method for compliance with applicable regulations related to project certification. Upon substantial completion of a project or the project becomes occupied, DSA initiates a project certification process. In brief, after DSA examines the project file to determine that all documents required for certification have been received and that there is no evidence of unapproved construction documents, the project becomes certified or not certified.

If the project is not certified, the school district and the project's design professional are notified by letter and online of the reason(s) for that action. The reasons are categorized as follows: (1) the district has not submitted a final cost report; (2) the district has not paid all required fees; (3) the required project scope has not been constructed; (4) construction is not in compliance with approved construction documents; (5) final required reports have not been received; and, (6) the final required reports that have been submitted are unacceptable due to incomplete or incorrect content.

Upon a project being identified as not certified, DSA actively works with the district and design professional to resolve any outstanding issues that are preventing certification. As part of these efforts, DSA focuses its resources on higher risk uncertified projects, such as projects that have safety deficiencies.

Related to informing the public, the new procedures provide that the school district has 45 calendar days to resolve all outstanding certification issues. If not resolved in that timeline, DSA will post to its website the uncertified status of a project and the reason(s) the project has not been certified.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: October 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To reduce the number of uncertified projects, the division should implement initiatives to follow up with school districts on uncertified projects. Those initiatives should include, at a minimum, regularly sending each district a list of its uncertified projects and assessing the success of the division's follow-up efforts.

Response

As noted in previous status reports, DSA has taken numerous actions to ensure that uncertified projects are identified, followed up and tracked until resolution. These actions include implementing an outreach plan that contains provisions for notifying school districts of their uncertified projects and regularly communicating with districts on those projects. DSA also engaged with school districts that had uncertified projects with evidence of unresolved safety deficiencies and conducted site visits to each of those projects as part of its outreach efforts.

Additionally, in October 2013, DSA has created a CertificationBox (DSA's cloud based internet solution) with folders for all uncertified projects and invited school districts to collaborate on their projects. DSA posted the items required for the project to be certified within specific folders under the school district, campus and application number. The school district has the ability to submit the required documents over the internet to the appropriate location. The submitter, date and document information is tracked by DSA. The system allows metrics to be run to capture activity and to maintain a record of progress of certification.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: October 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To ensure it is providing adequate oversight of school district construction projects, the division should develop robust procedures for monitoring inspectors' submission of semi-monthly reports. The division should also maintain all semi-monthly reports in its project files.

Response

DSA has taken additional actions to fulfill its responsibilities related to tracking, obtaining and filing the inspector semi-monthly reports. Toward this end, the division updated its automatic project tracking system to record the date of receipt of the most recent semi-monthly report. Further, in November 2012, staff training was conducted to review the procedures for receiving, reviewing and documenting the filing of semi-monthly reports. In December 2012, DSA also issued guidance to project inspectors on filing semi-monthly reports, including a list of who must receive the report and a report template. Finally, additional staff training was provided in February 2013 that included information on monitoring the filing of semi-monthly reports and steps to follow related to late or missing reports.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: February 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To ensure it is providing adequate oversight of school district construction projects, the division should develop and document an overall strategy that establishes specific expectations for conducting site visits and monitoring construction. The division should then record and compare its actual visits and monitoring efforts to its planned actions. The division should document explanations for any deviations from its plans.

Response

DSA finalized its site visit goals for all projects and provided staff training on this subject in November 2012. As part of this process, the division developed a monitoring tool to record and compare actual site visits by its field engineers to the policies requiring regular site visits. The monitoring system has been established to compile site visit data and compare to site visit goals. In February 2013, DSA conducted additional staff training that included: (1) using the monitoring system to generate data on field activities; and, (2) procedures for ensuring that site visit goals are met using the available data.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: February 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To mitigate risks arising from the relationship between inspectors, school districts, and project managers, the division should develop formal procedures and explicit directions for field engineers to ensure that they establish a presence on project sites and provide adequate oversight of inspectors during construction.

Response

The DSA has initiated a training program that focuses on ensuring that consistent construction oversight is being provided by its field engineers. The training includes modules that address overseeing project inspector performance and record keeping during construction. The first module was conducted in August 2012 and provided instruction on monitoring project inspector recordkeeping. A second training course on documentation of field oversight activities, including site visit goals, was completed in November 2012. The final training session, held in February 2013, outlined procedures for generating field status data to ensure adequate oversight of active construction projects.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: February 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To ensure that it approves inspectors prior to the start of project construction, the division should streamline its approval process by reviewing inspectors' workloads and past experience using the data it already maintains.

Response

To assist in ensuring the approval of inspectors prior to the start of project construction, DSA has enhanced its electronic project tracking system to report on inspector workloads and past experience. The system enhancement allows division field engineers to obtain data on an inspector's current workload to inform decisions regarding his/her approval for a specific project. In February 2013, training was provided to all field staff and supervisors on this enhancement.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: February 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To ensure that it formally monitors inspectors' performance, the division should reestablish a process for evaluating inspectors that provides consistent documentation of performance. The division should make this information accessible to appropriate staff.

Response

The objective of this recommendation has been achieved through DSA taking significant additional actions to monitor and document whether project inspectors are sufficiently fulfilling their duties as prescribed in statute and regulations. The actions taken by DSA related to monitoring inspector performance include initiating a process for review of project inspector recordkeeping and conducting staff training for field engineers who interact with project inspectors. Further, as part of its outreach and training for project inspectors, DSA has updated its guidelines for project inspector recordkeeping and reporting duties. DSA also developed enhancements to its automated project tracking system that allow the field engineer to document project inspector completion of reporting duties throughout the duration of a construction project.

In addition, as previously noted, on June 1, 2013, an inspection card process was implemented for all new construction projects. The implementation of this process included DSA providing detailed requirements related to a project inspector's role in ensuring the success of this key construction inspection activity. The inspectors are held responsible and accountable for complying with the requirements.

Overall, the current process allows inspector performance to be monitored based on information from job file reviews of required activities rather than information of a more subjective nature.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: June 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To address areas in which its staff do not currently have expertise, the division should finalize its field pilot and take subsequent steps to ensure it has qualified staff to provide oversight of accessibility; fire and life safety; and the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing aspects of construction.

Response

DSA revisited the results of the field pilot to determine the current feasibility of expanding its construction oversight for schools beyond structural safety. DSA determined that, based on the current statutory based fee structure, sufficient resources are available for project oversight activities involving only structural safety, fire and life safety and accessibility issues.

As to ensuring that adequate oversight is provided, DSA has reviewed the field pilot report's recommendations and developed alternative means to achieve the objectives of the field pilot for enhanced oversight of the fire and life safety and accessibility aspects of project construction. Specifically, the division developed a training program for its field engineers that will increase their expertise in the fire and life safety elements of construction as well as accessibility compliance.

The accessibility training was provided to all field staff and supervisors in October 2013. Additional training for field review of fire and life safety based on the new inspection card process is scheduled to be given to all field staff and supervisors no later than the first quarter 2014.

Overall, the training program in conjunction with an automated statewide metric to measure field oversight workload and the new inspection card system addresses the field oversight issues that initiated the field pilot project. Therefore, the DSA determined that an update to the field pilot project was not necessary.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Not Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: March 2014
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To better manage its construction oversight and close-out functions, the division should develop measures to assess those functions and it should periodically report the results to the public on its Web site.

Response

As noted in previous status reports, DSA has developed measurements and reporting for its field oversight program including those related to the number of projects under construction and the rate of project certification. Subsequently, in October 2013, DSA posted to its public website information on projects under construction, certification rates for the last four fiscal years and total outstanding uncertified projects.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: October 2013
  • Response Date: October 2013

Recommendation To: General Services, Department of

To address possible staffing problems, the division should use documented workload metrics to perform an assessment of its current staffing levels and determine its staffing needs. It should revisit the field pilot and make necessary changes to reflect its understanding of its current staffing situation.

Response

DSA has implemented enhancements to its electronic project tracking system and developed an automated statewide workload metric to measure its field oversight workload. Consequently, the division uses this metric to conduct assessments of its staffing levels, which, at the present time, are commensurate with its site visit goals, i.e., in general, visiting active projects every four to eight weeks. The assessment report contains information by regional office on active construction projects, staffing levels and site visit frequency. The report is used by management to evaluate if site visit goals are met and to anticipate future staffing needs for field oversight.

In addition, DSA revisited the results of the field pilot to determine the current feasibility of expanding its construction oversight for schools beyond structural safety. DSA determined that, based on the current statutory based fee structure, sufficient resources are available for project oversight activities involving only structural safety, fire and life safety and accessibility issues.

  • California State Auditor's Assessment of Status: Fully Implemented
  • Completion Date: December 2012
  • Response Date: October 2013

Current Status of Recommendations

All Recommendations in 2013-041