OIG Releases Advisory Concerning the Department of Assets, Information and Services’ Management of Municipal License Plates Registered to City Vehicles

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that the municipal license plate inventory the Department of Assets, Information and Services (AIS) manages does not match the Illinois Secretary of State (ILSOS) database of municipal plates issued to the City, with approximately 7,000 municipal license plates unaccounted for at AIS. Without an accurate database and regular audit of the City’s municipal license plates, AIS is unable to account for and track the possession and use of all municipal license plates assigned to the City, posing a significant risk of abuse and misconduct with City and State assets. Further, OIG found that the Department’s current practices lack effective quality control and auditing measures to ensure that license plates are properly registered and affixed to City vehicles, or properly destroyed after the end of service. Lost or misplaced license plates could be attached to non-City vehicles, allowing those vehicles to be illegally driven and improperly used. With improperly registered plates, City vehicles involved in traffic accidents or violations could create liability issues. Furthermore, allowing plates to be registered to multiple vehicles, and failing to account for when the plates are swapped between vehicles, provides ripe opportunity for City vehicles to be abused, misappropriated, or misused in violation of City policies or rules.

OIG analyzed ILSOS’ data and attempted to compare it with AIS’ City fleet records. However, we could not reconcile both sets of data as they did not match and contained too many inconsistencies. There were 7,093 license plates which existed in the ILSOS database but did not exist in the AIS database, with more than half of those (51.2%) license plates unassigned to a specific department. Moreover, 6,955 license plates exist in AIS’ database but do not exist in ILSOS’ database.

In order to mitigate the safety and security risks, OIG suggested that AIS take the following steps to improve their municipal license plate data:

  • Audit all municipal license plates within its possession, and upload every plate and its identifying information into the M5 database
  • Reconcile the M5 database with ILSOS’ database and develop ongoing communication and verification with ILSOS
  • Conduct regularly scheduled audits of all municipal license plates and fleet vehicles
  • Develop a system in partnership with ILSOS to allow for direct access to each department’s databases for real-time analysis and rigorous inventory control
  • Register and assign all City vehicles––including rental and leased vehicles which require a municipal plate––to ensure that municipal plates are properly issued to the appropriate vehicle and remain with the vehicle until it is returned, or at the end of its service.

In response, AIS agreed with OIG’s suggestions to improve its municipal plate data.

“The non-alignment of M-plate asset tracking found here is substantial and concerning. But, as is routinely the case in OIG matters concerning the Department of Assets, Information and Services, our inquiry was met by AIS with full appreciation, cooperation, and commitment to remedying programmatic shortfalls and improving controls. Following on these findings, AIS and ILSOS have already embarked on a programmatic approach to asset alignment and tracking which should serve as a model for ILSOS’ relationship with other localities statewide and, in the process, greatly mitigate and potentially prevent abuse and misuse of municipal plates and official vehicles,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “This matter was brought to OIG’s attention by the ILSOS OIG as a proposal for a joint undertaking of potential statewide benefit. During the course of the joint undertaking, ILSOS’ long-serving Inspector General and former U.S. Attorney Jim Burns passed away. The resulting coordinate undertaking of AIS and ILSOS moving forward is a fitting coda to Jim’s lifelong work for the public good.”

The advisory can be found on OIG’s website at: bit.ly/MPlateAdvisory

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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: igchicago.org.