Language Access Ordinance Compliance Audit Follow-Up Inquiry

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its September 2017 audit of the City’s compliance with the Language Access Ordinance (LAO), Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC) Chapter 2-40, “Citywide Language Access to Ensure the Effective Delivery of City Services.” Based on the Department’s responses, OIG concludes that the City has partially implemented corrective actions related to the audit findings.

The purpose of the September 2017 audit was to determine if the City was in compliance with the language access requirements of MCC Chapter 2-40. Our audit found that the City is not in compliance with those requirements. Specifically, the Mayor’s Office of New Americans (ONA) focused its compliance efforts on the seven City departments it deemed fully subject to LAO, and did not ensure that other departments complied with the Ordinance’s mandate to implement those requirements “to the degree practicable.” Moreover, none of the seven prioritized departments were in full compliance with the LAO requirements. While all seven designated a Language Access Coordinator, one had not submitted the required language access and compliance plans, and none had implemented procedures to solicit community comment. None of the submitted language access plans were developed with the department-specific four-factor analyses required by LAO, and one plan did not include all six of the required elements.

Based upon the results of the audit, OIG recommended that the Mayor’s Office:

  1. clarify which LAO requirements apply to each of the various City departments;
  2. endow ONA or another entity with the power and duty to enforce compliance with the language access requirements in the manner that other cities have done;
  3. inform all departments of their responsibilities under LAO, as well as the resources available to them, such as document translation and interpretation services available through the City’s contract with Language Line, LLC;
  4. share ONA’s templates and other guidance documents with all City departments;
  5. ensure that departments conduct the required four-factor analysis in developing their language access plans;
  6. evaluate departmental performance and identify opportunities for improved language access;
  7. promote accountability and transparency by publicly reporting on departments’ language access services, in the manner that other cities have done.

In its response to the audit, ONA described corrective actions it would take in response to some of the audit recommendations, while declining to commit to corrective action on others.

In May 2018, OIG inquired about corrective actions taken by ONA in response to the audit.

Based on ONA’s follow-up response, OIG concludes that ONA has only partially implemented the corrective actions to which it committed in its response to the original audit. Specifically, ONA has identified two more departments—the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Aviation—it deems subject to LAO, has begun meeting with those departments on a quarterly basis to discuss language access compliance, has provided templates and guidance on language access planning, and has begun identifying areas for improvement of language services.

We urge the City to continue implementation of language access improvements, including ensuring receipt of all required departmental language access plans, continuing evaluations of those departments it has identified as subject to full LAO compliance, expanding its evaluations to include departments obligated to “extent practicable” LAO compliance (most notably the Chicago Police Department), sharing resources with all City departments, and promoting accountability and transparency through public reporting. Such actions will improve implementation and compliance but are unlikely to produce robust City-wide LAO compliance until the Mayor and City Council address the fact that the Ordinance gives ONA an enterprise-wide responsibility without the commensurate enterprise-wide authority needed to meet the legislative objectives and requirements.