Inspector General to ‘Open Chicago’ With New Transparency Initiative

Image (remixed) courtesy withassociates/Flickr

Today I’m watching another group that watches the behavior of public officials and their governments—the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (IGO)—which just announced a new transparency initiative dubbed “Open Chicago.”

This is a major step toward the level of transparency that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis envisioned nearly a century ago when he called “sunlight the best disinfectant.”

You can’t assess a government you can’t see, and this transparency initiative will make it easier to shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable. Chicago taxpayers should be encouraged by the efforts of Joe Ferguson, an inspector general who is willing and eager to use all the tools at his disposal to facilitate the higher quality of government we deserve but too infrequently receive.

Here’s the release from the IG:

Chicago Inspector General Announces New Transparency Initiative “Open Chicago”

Citing the importance of promoting and enhancing transparency in City government Inspector General Joe Ferguson today announced “Open Chicago,” a new transparency initiative.

Hosted on the City of Chicago’s Office of Inspector General’s (IGO) newly redesigned website, the initiative is aimed at increasing the public’s understanding of City government and to further the IGO’s mandate of promoting economy, efficiency, effectiveness and integrity in the administration of the programs and operations of the City government.

“The mission of the IGO is to promote efficiency and effectiveness in government programs.  Vindication of that mission requires accountability, which is elusive without transparency,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson.  “Public information, necessary to the IGO’s understanding and assessment of government operations, is equally necessary to making City government more transparent to Chicago residents.  With this initiative, the IGO is committing itself to making public data available utilized in the course of our work to inform our understanding of what the City does and how it does it.”

Open Chicago will have three main components: (i) increasing the transparency of the IGO’s audits and program reviews; (ii) publishing and linking to public, non-confidential City data on the IGO’s website; and (iii) identifying best practices in government transparency and accountability.

The goal of Open Chicago is to make City government more transparent.  When appropriate, the IGO will ask the City departments responsible for public data to publish the data themselves.  If City departments agree to these requests and publish the information in a manner that meets the Open Chicago criteria for true transparency, the IGO will simply link to this information on its website.

In response to the first Open Chicago request from the IGO, the City has published its Collective Bargaining Agreements with local unions, Single Audit Reports on Federal Grants, as well as the list of property the City leases.  The IGO has provided these links on its website.  Previously, the IGO posted an Excel version of the City’s budget.

“The City has made strides in committing itself to transparency, but gaps remain.  The IGO is uniquely positioned to shore up those gaps, and our office has the knowledge to provide context for and analysis of City data, as well as the capabilities for making that data accessible to the public,” said Mr. Ferguson.

The IGO will periodically update its Open Chicago page with new datasets.  Questions or suggestions for new data can be directed to openchicago@chicagoinspectorgeneral.org.  Follow the IGO on Twitter at ChicagoIGO for the latest Open Chicago information, as well updates on how the IGO continues to fight waste, fraud, abuse, and inefficiency in Chicago government.

I’d love to read your comments about the initiative….

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1 Comment

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One response to “Inspector General to ‘Open Chicago’ With New Transparency Initiative

  1. Mark L. Madsen

    Dear Andy Shaw,

    I listened to your interview on WBBM Radio last weekend, and wanted to say that Village, Township, County, State, and Federal systems were also intended as a checks and balances on political power and potential corruption. It might seem costly to the taxpayers to have this kind of system, but you don’t want all think-a-likes and yes-men in a streamlined governmental system that is easy to buy off– especially after the Citizens United case. Democracy isn’t cheap if you want checks and balances.

    The first thing corrupt politicians or businessmen do is consolidate and eliminate the amount of auditors, accountants, regulators, independent agencies, and civil servants, because they don’t want anyone double-checking the records and following the money. Maybe this is why so much money disappeared in the Iraq and Afghanistan War. Certainly Vice President Cheney did quite a bit to consolidate law enforcement under one head, which also allowed for fewer checks and balances of those in charge at the top. After reading the Haldeman Diaries again, I wonder how Watergate would have played out these days with this kind of consolidation of power? Thinking back to Al Capone, besides having the Chicago Police in his pocket, these days he could easily have obtained FBI insider information and on all agencies with this much consolidation that has gone on.

    You also talked about matching funding for state pensions. Employees have already put up to 10% of their salaries into SRS and the TRS and don’t get Social Security. The matching funding was supposed to be a Constitutional obligation, but year-after-year pensions have gotten shelved to the back of the budget list. Now, in a recession, with less tax revenue coming in, it has suddenly become a target of think-tanks who want to cut taxes. Perhaps there is some corruption in getting a political appointment to a high salaried job just before retirement or getting appointed to the toll-way commission, but these high-salaried positions are far and few between and should be dealt with on an individual basis. I also see some hypocrisy in attacking pensions while all Illinois retirees now pay 0% state taxes on retirement funds like 401Ks and IRAs. We could climb out of the crisis if retirees, workers, and businesses all pitched in equitably until the economy recovers.
    Sincerely,
    Mark L. Madsen
    Retired member of the National Business Education Association

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