Release: Audit Finds the City’s Permit System Needs Urgent Improvement

Crest of the City of Baltimore

Bill Henry
Comptroller,
Baltimore City
204 City Hall - Baltimore Maryland 21202
(410) 396-5410

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT
Geoff Shannon, Public Relations Officer
(410) 387-5704

geoff.shannon@baltimorecity.gov

 

Baltimore, MD – City Auditor Josh Pasch presented the biennial performance audit of the Department of Planning report at the October 19th Board of Estimates meeting. Audits noted three findings:

  1. E-permit turnaround times for Department of Planning’s two metrics are overstated;
  2. New employees are unable to obtain appropriate access to e-Plans and e-Permits systems, and;
  3. Supervisor reviews of permits are not performed.

Audits examined the Department of Housing and Community Development’s e-plans and e-Permits online system, which are used by multiple city agencies including the Department of Planning. E-Plans is used to process complex permits that require specific documentation. Building designs, site plans, environmental analysis and data, with multi-agency involvement, and basic permits that do not require plans are all processed through e-Permits. The Department of Planning processes approximately 28,000 permit applications yearly. DHCD receives all permit applications via the e-Permits and e-Plans systems and assigns the permits to appropriate agencies.

Audits recommended that DHCD and Planning provide accurate historical data reporting for the e-Permits process, create a more formal process, and write a formal policy to add employees to the e-Plans and e-Permits systems, and establish a sampling-based review of the 28,000 permits to validate the accuracy, completeness and quality of the work performed.

"Having sufficient documentation of procedures and systems is a necessity for maintaining efficient city operations,” City Auditor Pasch said. “The retirement or absence of one employee shouldn’t affect operations and impose a significant risk to the City.”

The Department of Planning and DHCD agreed with Audits recommendations and set a schedule to implement the changes. A permit spot-check process and a more formal process for adding employees will be implemented by the end of 2022, and a new permit system is expected to launch in July 2024.

Prior Findings

Along with its e-Permits recommendations, Audits also reviewed the implementation status of prior Audit recommendations from its 2019-2018 performance report:

  1. DOP’s basic permit review uses an incorrect calculation methodology resulting in understating results reported in the budget book. Furthermore, the process lacks sufficient data reliability controls. Prior recommendations to address these issues were not implemented by the Department of Planning.
  2. DOP’s targets and goals for Baltimore’s Climate Action Plan are reported on a project-to-date basis instead of annual performance activity, overstating progress. Prior recommendations to address this issue was partially implemented; the budget book to reflect current year goals, however, the actuals for FY 2021 and FY 2020 could not be verified because DOP did not provide the auditors with documentation after multiple requests.

“We should strive to make it as easy as possible for people to do business with the City, which is why implementing the auditors’ recommendations must be a priority,” said Comptroller Bill Henry. “Agencies need to understand that the point of a performance audit is to help their operations so that they can be more effective and efficient.”

A full audit report can be found at the Comptroller's website. 

Background

The Department of Audits (DOA) is the city's independent auditor, providing various audits, attestation engagements, and assurance services with the overall goal of improving government accountability.

The DOA, pursuant to Article V § 11, performs biennial audits of agencies. In 2022, this includes the Baltimore Police Department, the Health Department, the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Law, Department of Transportation, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, and the Baltimore City Information & Technology.

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