Judy Stevens, BGA’s policy coordinator, testifies before the Committee on Budget and Government Operations / BGA photo

A representative of the BGA’s policy team appeared before a Chicago City Council committee in support of an ordinance aimed at allowing the city’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to expand its reach and monitor the influential Public Building Commission (PBC).

Judy Stevens, BGA’s policy coordinator, testified Monday before the Committee on Budget and Government Operations and its chairman Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) in support of the proposed ordinance, O2014-6923.

The ordinance passed committee by voice vote and was adopted on Wednesday by the full City Council.

The proposed law would “play an important role” in advancing government transparency and accountability, Stevens told committee members.

The PBC oversees “millions of dollars in construction,” and the proposed ordinance means shifting oversight to the city’s fulltime OIG and away from the PBC’s outside IG, which is under contract to the agency, she added.

“Bringing PBC under Chicago’s largest full-time professional IG office is a welcome move,” Stevens told the committee.

In August, the BGA’s investigative team published a story outlining the structural and systemic limitations faced by the city’s separate IG offices.

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Placing the PBC under the city IG may be the first step in determining if other city agencies, such as Chicago Public Schools and Park District, will also become part of that agency’s portfolio.

Not only does passage of the ordinance put the PBC under the OIG’s oversight, it also allows some other major city agencies to enter into a similar arrangement through an intergovernmental agreement.

The BGA has long supported the existence of an independent and adequately funded IG’s office at all levels of government.

Stevens’ testimony:

Better Government Association
Testimony to
Committee on Budget & Government Operations
on Proposed Ordinance 02014-6923
Judy Stevens, Policy Coordinator
October 6, 2014

Good morning Chairman Austin and members of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations. My name is Judy Stevens and I am here to speak in support of the proposed ordinance—the published proposed ordinance—on behalf of the Better Government Association, a non-partisan, non-profit government watchdog organization. I coordinate BGA’s Policy Unit, which is distinct from BGA’s better-known investigations unit. The Policy Unit promotes policy solutions and advocates for more open, transparent and accountable government.

Inspectors General can play an important role in advancing transparency and accountability. And the ordinance before you contributes to strengthening that role, by placing the Public Building Commission under the Executive Inspector General, while allowing for expansion of the EIG’s oversight to additional sister agencies.

In August BGA’s investigative unit published the results of an examination of structural limitations faced by inspectors general in the City of Chicago. These included the “silo” structure that currently separates oversight agencies, with independent budgets and no ability to share resources or staff. The Public Building Commission oversees millions of dollars in construction, and the shift from separate oversight provided by a contract IG to bringing PBC under Chicago’s largest full-time professional IG office is a welcome move.

An appropriately empowered inspector general’s office is one that is independent, free of political pressures, and adequately funded. An inspector general should have independent expenditure authority, the power to subpoena witnesses and to compel production of materials, and the power to initiate his or her own investigations. The BGA has long supported the existence of a strong, professional, independent inspector general’s office at all levels of city government. This ordinance makes an important contribution, and we support it.