OIG Follow-Up Inquiry Finds That the Department of Buildings Partially Implemented Corrective Actions, But Still Has Data Issues Regarding Complaint-Based Inspections

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its April 2018 audit of the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) complaint-based inspection operations. Based on the Department’s responses, OIG concludes that DOB has partially implemented corrective actions. Our audit found that DOB did not have effective strategies for prioritizing complaint-based inspections, which resulted in a backlog of over 5,000 complaints (some of which described serious health and safety hazards). DOB also exceeded the mandatory 21-day deadline set by the Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC) and did not provide the public with a property’s complete violation history via the City’s websites.

In 2018, OIG issued multiple recommendations, including: immediately identifying and addressing open and overdue emergency complaints; providing proper and thorough training to staff; collaborating with 311; setting policies for data entry; and improving the usefulness of public data, which also included working with the Department of Innovation Technology (DOIT) to provide more complete and accurate public information.

DOB has since implemented some recommendations, such as: conducting a staffing analysis as part of its 2020 budget request and creating a dashboard which enables DOB management to monitor the status of all complaints and follow up with supervisors concerning the requests. City Council also changed the language of the MCC to remove the deadline and allow the commissioner to prioritize investigations simply on the basis of “considerations of public health and safety,” although DOB has not changed its internal deadlines for complaint response, which range from 3 to 90 days depending on the complaint type. However, there are still operational issues that have only been partially resolved. While DOB closed overdue complaints identified in the original audit, 350 of those still appeared open in the City’s 311 system due to data conversion errors. As of October 23, 2019, DOB still carried a backlog of 1,855 open, overdue complaints. Additionally, DOB did not document standardized data entry nor complaint prioritization procedures, nor has the accuracy of publicly available data sets been fully been resolved.

“DOB has addressed some of the operational issues first raised in OIG’s audit of the complaint-based inspection system, but there is still much room for improvement,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “We strongly urge the Department to promptly develop written procedures and guidance for prioritizing complaints. We also hope to see more collaboration between DOB, 311, and DOIT, to remedy data errors in an effort to continually address not only health and safety issues, but to also ensure that the public receives the most up-to-date and accurate information.”

The full report can be found online: bit.ly/DOBFollowUp

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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.