Council's financial watchdogs caught as copycats

The Chicago City Council's Office of Financial Analysis has turned out report text that's lifted word-for-word from outside sources, research shows.

A former city worker noticed the copycat practice by the Council Office of Financial Analysis (COFA), and alerted local journalists. The practice was originally reported in The Daily Line.

The City Council created COFA in 2013 to help aldermen assess the budget proposals of mayoral administrations, and to clue the council on potential costs and savings of proposed programs.

COFA is bound by city law to annually perform a number of budget and financial analyses. In addition, any alderman may request that COFA analyze the financial impact of a current or proposed city program. COFA must display the resulting documents on its Web site.

The former city worker, Jonathan Silverstein, was fired from COFA in early 2021. Silverstein subsequently identified these COFA reports that contain copied material:

  • 2019 Overview and Analysis of Comprehensive Annual Report
  • 2020 Overview and Analysis of Annual Comprehensive Financial Report
  • 2022 Revenue and Saving Opportunities
  • City of Chicago 2022 Budget Analysis

The first three reports shown above contain text apparently copied word-for-word from outside sources, with no quote marks or attribution of any kind.

The fourth report has, at its end, a list of links to sources—but it doesn't identify which parts of the report came from which sources.

Questioned about the copied material, COFA Chief Administrative Officer Ken Williams said via e-mail, "COFA is not in the practice or condoning the of [sic] copying outside material verbatim for its reports. The omissions occurred due to the time constraints, and limited resource to proof and verify reference sources."

When asked about the use of copied material going forward, Williams wrote, "COFA as [sic] procured software and hired staff to prevent future errors from occurring."

Here's a comparison of a COFA report excerpt and the document from which it was lifted:

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