Rahm's Plan for Good Government
Rahm is committed to bringing greater transparency and accountability to city government by opening it to the taxpayers it serves, ending the influence of lobbyists, and creating internal oversight to ensure public funds are serving the people of Chicago.
His plan to restore faith in city government reflects a lifetime of fighting for greater transparency and accountability on the federal level. Whether advocating to rein in the influence of lobbyists, introducing comprehensive ethics legislation, or pushing for greater disclosure among elected officials, Rahm believes the most useful tool to guard against corruption and waste is opening government to the taxpayers it serves.
Close the revolving door between government service and lobbying
An appointment to city government or a city board should be about serving the people of Chicago, not about building a client list for your next job. As one of his first acts in office, Rahm will sign an executive order shutting the revolving door that allows government appointees to lobby the administration or department where they worked. The order will ban any mayoral appointee to City Hall or a city department from returning to lobby their colleagues for two years. It will also ban any public board appointee from going back to lobby the public organization they served.
Create an online database of lobbyist activity
Rahm will create an easy-to-use website that allows anyone to track and find information on lobbyists – who they are lobbying for, what they are lobbying for, and which government officials they have lobbied.
Refuse donations from city lobbyists
Rahm refuses donations from those who are registered to lobby city government.
A strong and independent Inspector General (IG) who roots out waste, fraud and abuse in city government is critically important, particularly in times of economic recession. Rahm will push for three changes to empower the IG and ensure that the office remains free from political pressure.
Expand the IG’s oversight authority
Currently only certain city agencies are overseen by the Inspector General. IG oversight should be expanded to include all agencies that have no independent watchdog, including the Chicago Park District and the Public Building Commission. The IG's authority should also extend to the City Council, but Rahm believes that decision must be left squarely in the hands of the City Council.
Protect the IG’s budget from political pressure
The IG's office should have a budget set at no less than 0.1 percent of the overall city budget and should have full discretion over how to use that money. Setting the number at the current funding level will protect the office from annual threats to its budget and other political pressures.
Ensure City Hall compliance with the IG
Rahm will ensure that the IG's office gets all relevant information from all parts of the executive branch of city government, and he will make clear that any efforts to block the IG from getting information will not be tolerated.
A strong and independent Board of Ethics is an essential tool to ensure accountability in city government. The Board should be focused on providing legal opinions and guidance that holds all government officials – including City Council members – to the highest standards, not as a venue to find wiggle room in ordinances. Ethics investigations should be handled by an empowered IG's Office
Rahm will introduce in his first six months a major overhaul of the ethics ordinance. It is an outdated document that is vague and full of loopholes that allow for liberal interpretations to skirt laws. The Board’s records and information should also be fully transparent to the Inspector General so that the IG’s office is able to use the information to root out waste and corruption.
City contracts should go to the lowest responsible bidders who provide the best services – not to the best connected.
Rein in no-bid contracts and increase transparency
Maximum transparency can help ensure that political considerations are not allowed to mix with contract decisions. No-bid contracts should be rare and reserved for extraordinary situations, and the Non-Competitive Review Board (NCRB) will become more transparent and user friendly by making its meetings public and putting all contracts, meeting notices, agendas and minutes online. Rahm will require all individuals involved in any stage in the development of specifications for a no-bid contract to disclose their role to the Inspector General, and will require that any significant modifications to no-bid contracts be subject to the same review as the original contract. Emergency contracts should be reserved for true emergencies and limited to 90 days or the length of the emergency. When contracts are handed out based not on low bids but more subjective criteria (like RFP's), the work of the city’s evaluation committee must be made completely transparent.
Ensure an independent procurement department
Rahm is committed to hiring professionals to run the Department of Procurement Services, which contracts for more than $3 billion of goods and services annually. These leaders should be given independence to ensure that political consideration play no role in the awarding of contracts.
Abuse of Chicago’s Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise Certification process is well documented and severely hurts the upstart businesses it is supposed to help. There should be zero tolerance for companies that commit fraud and use “front” companies to achieve women- or minority-owned status under the program. Rahm will go after these abusers and bar them from receiving any city business for ten years.
When a Chicagoan ships a package, she can monitor it online with a simple tracking number. But if she wants to monitor the progress of a license to open her new business, she faces a byzantine bureaucracy that allows those with clout to move to the head of the line. Rahm wants to open the process so that the residents who request zoning changes and the officials who make those decisions are operating in the best interest of the city.
Create an online portal to track zoning decisions
Rahm will put all zoning and business license applications online from the time of filing in an easily-searchable database so that every citizen can monitor progress and hold city government accountable. Final zoning decisions will also be posted online with the legal reasoning behind each.
Disclose conflicts among those who make zoning decisions
Rahm will work with the City Council to pass legislation requiring all who participate in the zoning approval process – including aldermen – to publicly reveal any potential conflicts of interest on his or her part or on the part of a family member.
Set clear timelines for city action
The current bureaucracy often leaves business owners in the dark about the length of time they will have to wait for their business license. This uncertainty slows economic growth and discourages business investment in the city. Rahm will task the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection with establishing clear deadlines for every part of the business licensing process, and implementing those systems within one year. A clear time-limit will help to eliminate the need for businesses to hire "facilitators" who often try to speed up the process through their connections at City Hall, and will give businesses the certainty they need to invest in Chicago.
Today, in response to past abuses, city hiring is subject to external oversight and control. While third-party oversight adds cost and complexity to the hiring process, it is in place to ensure that city hiring is fair and legal. That oversight will only end when the city has a human resources program that complies with the law and meets the needs of Chicago residents and taxpayers.
Rahm's plan will give Chicago's hiring process the fresh start it needs by establishing a clear precedent: political considerations will never override merit, for both hiring and other employment decisions. Rahm will consistently send the message from the top that political influences in employment decisions will not be tolerated. A history of patronage has cost taxpayers millions in wasteful appointments, and has damaged the morale of the thousands of hard-working city employees.
An independent human resources expert at the helm
The Commissioner of Human Resources must have a long record in the field and be given total freedom from political influence. The Commissioner will be given clear power to alter departmental hiring decisions that put the candidate’s politics over his or her credentials.
Use an outside, independent firm to manage civil service hiring
One of the best ways to remove politics from the hiring process is to contract out hiring of civil service employees to a private company through a competitive bidding process. These professionals will need to have an in-depth understanding of the hiring needs for its service area as well as contractual and legal compliance requirements.
Ensure hiring compliance efforts remain independent in the Inspector General’s office
The best rules and intentions are meaningless if a strong, independent enforcement and compliance function is not in place. Rahm agrees with the recent action that moved the hiring compliance function from the Office of Compliance to the IG's Office. This helps ensure that the City has the strongest possible effort in place to comply with the rules mandating that politics play no part in employment decisions.
The city’s implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is difficult to navigate, discourages requests, can require multiple steps to find and gain access to information and needlessly delays access to public documents. Citizens and businesses should not need lawyers to craft FOIA requests and secure information.
Specifically, Rahm's plan will mandate four compliance and reporting standards:
- Performance targets should be set to beat statutory deadlines for fulfilling information requests.
- The city will identify and publicly report all city denials of FOIAs or requests for extensions of time to comply with those requests.
- The city will provide a central point of technical assistance that helps citizens and businesses prepare requests and access information.
- Performance reporting should include the effectiveness of technical assistance and should include user surveys on access to information.
Rahm has worked his entire career to bring transparency and ethics reform to government. As a congressman and while serving President Obama, Rahm pushed broad reforms to enhance lobbyist disclosure, open government activities to public scrutiny, and ensure earmarks were not going to the family members and donors of their congressional sponsor.
Pushed legislation that would force lobbyists to disclose their activities
While in Congress, Rahm introduced The Special Interest Lobbying and Ethics Accountability Act – legislation that sought to crack down on special interest influence. The bill required increased disclosure of lobbyist activities, extended the waiting period for retired members of Congress to become lobbyists, and toughened enforcement and penalties of ethics rules.
Made the Obama White House the most transparent administration in history
As chief of staff, Rahm worked to make transparency in the Obama White House a core tenet from day one. Among the President's first acts were Issuing an executive order and two memoranda related to transparency and open government. These acts encouraged all offices to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and called for increased transparency in government across the board.
Reformed congressional earmarks
Rahm introduced legislation that prohibited earmarks that benefit members of Congress, their families, or registered lobbyists. His bill ordered broad disclosure requirements to prevent congressmen or their immediate family from personally benefiting from an earmark, banned earmarks from going to any entity that employs an immediate family member of the earmark’s sponsor, and prohibited congressmen from giving earmarks that benefit lobbyists who lead his or her PAC.