Working for a government watchdog: An Interview with Nicole Klein, NDLS 2009

Nicole Klein, NDLS 2009, was an Assistant Inspector General at the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) and while she was working there, she took time to speak with me about the work that her office does and the experience interns gain from working in her office. Kathryn Richards, the Chief Assistant Inspector General, also joined our conversation. Since this interview, Nicole has left the OIG but is still happy to speak with NDLS students about her experience there and the work that the office does.

Before I get into our conversation, I am announcing, up front, that OIG hires fall, spring, and summer interns! Applications are due by April 1 for summer placement, but are reviewed on a rolling basis and you could also be considered for opportunities during the school year, either through the Chicago program or the Lawyering Practice Externship, so if you’re interested, apply ASAP. You can read more about the Office and apply here or follow OIG on LinkedIn for job updates.

What OIG Does:

The mission of OIG is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity in the administration of programs and operation of City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City, and conducts independent inquiries into most aspects of City government. OIG conducts internal investigations of all City employees, City Council, contractors, subcontractors, licensees, and those seeking certification of eligibility for participation in any City program. As a result, the Office is independent from all City of Chicago departments, is located in separate offices outside of City Hall, and has become the gold standard for inspector general offices nationwide.

OIG conducts its investigations and program reviews through different sections within its office, including Investigations, Audit and Program Review, Public Safety, and Hiring Oversight. The Legal Section in which Ms. Klein works serves to provide professional operational support to all of these office components and ensure that OIG’s investigations and reviews operate within the parameters of employees’ collective bargaining agreements and produce legally sound results.

Assistant Inspectors General work directly with investigators, performance analysts, and compliance officers.  Attorneys regularly attend witness and subject interviews with investigators. The Office has a General Counsel, Chief Assistant Inspector General, two Associate General Counsels, and seven Assistant Inspectors General.

The Audit and Program Review Section conducts audits to make sure City departments are operating efficiently and effectively. This Section conducts independent, objective analyses and evaluations of City programs and operations, issues public reports, and makes recommendations to strengthen and improve the delivery of City services. For example, in 2017, OIG conducted an audit of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) management of construction projects on City streets, sidewalks, parkways, and alleys. OIG found that CDOT saved the City at least $18.1 million dollars in 2016 by effectively coordinating construction projects to reduce unnecessary roadwork.

In the past, OIG performed an audit of the City’s red light camera program, and found that the City could not prove that the locations identified for installation of cameras were based on safety considerations; and a lack of recordkeeping and analysis by the City for the program in general. More information on OIG audit and program reviews can be found here:

The Investigations Section conducts both criminal and administrative investigations of allegations of corruption, misconduct, waste, or substandard performance by governmental officers, employees, contractors, vendors, and licensees, among others. Examples of administrative misconduct that OIG investigates include residency requirement violations (City employees are required to live within City limits), theft, falsifying documents, sexual harassment, offering and accepting bribes, fraud, and violations of the City’s ethics ordinance.

OIG ensures that all employees, including police officers and firefighters, abide by City personnel and departmental rules. In each case with a sustained finding, OIG makes a recommendation for discipline and refers administrative cases to the City of Chicago Department of Law. OIG also partners with various outside agencies, including the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Illinois Attorney General’s Office, and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Almost every aspect of OIG’s investigations is confidential, but case summaries can be found in OIG reports published online on a quarterly basis.

I asked for an example of high profile investigations OIG had conducted, and was told about a recent investigation that established that three Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) Security Officers and one Aviation Security Sergeant violated City personnel rules in response to a passenger disturbance aboard United Airlines Express Flight 3411 on April 9, 2017. Specifically, a passenger was forcefully removed from the plane and hit his face on an armrest resulting in a concussion, broken nose, and the loss of two teeth. In addition to determining that officer(s) used excessive force and removed material facts from a report, OIG identified significant confusion within CDA’s Public Safety and Security, Security Operations Division regarding the roles and expectations of officers, and CDA’s fundamental failure to implement practical policies and procedures.

Another OIG investigation found that six Chicago Police Department (CPD) members violated CPD rules and regulations in the course of their involvement in CPD’s reinvestigation of the 2004 homicide of David Koschman. Two detectives and their supervising officers provided or created the appearance of preferential treatment for Richard J. Vanecko, the Mayor’s nephew. As a result, one detective resigned, another detective was suspended for one year, and three supervisors retired. OIG has also taken on investigations of police misconduct in matters where the previously existing oversight system had faltered, including broad scale investigations into CPD’s investigative handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting.

OIG is routinely involved in many high-profile investigations, but cannot comment on them due to strict confidentiality requirements. Publicly available information regarding investigations is available at

The Hiring Oversight function performs legally mandated audits and reviews of the City’s hiring and employment practices to ensure compliance with the various City Hiring Plans. The Section provides guidance, training, and program recommendations to City departments handling a broad and complex array of employment-related actions. They monitor job interviews and tests conducted in conjunction with department hiring processes. More information on Hiring Oversight and compliance can be found at

The Office grew significantly last year with the addition of the Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety function. This Section initiates inspections, evaluations, and reviews of the City’s police and police accountability agencies, including the Chicago Police Department and its Bureau of Internal Affairs, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and its predecessor the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), and the Chicago Police Board, with the goals of enhancing the effectiveness of those agencies; increasing public safety; promoting constitutional practices that safeguard individual civil liberties and civil rights; and ensuring the accountability of the police force, thus building stronger police-community relations.

More information on the Public Safety Section can be found here:

Interning for OIG

Interns working here will see a lot of criminal and administrative procedure, constitutional law, and labor and employment issues. OIG works with many government offices in the City so interns will get exposure to several different offices throughout local, state, and federal government. OIG attorneys do not litigate in court, but interns will have a wide range of opportunities to exercise their legal abilities, and opportunities to observe cases at trial.

Interns will assist AIGs with day-to-day tasks, including drafting lengthy reports detailing investigative findings and recommendations for discipline. Each report summarizes evidence, applies case law, analyzes personnel violations, and explains why disciplinary action is appropriate.  Interns will also field legal questions from all sections in the Office, and prepare legal memos on various issues including, but not limited to, statutory interpretation and applicability of constitutional and case law.

The experience gained by interns at OIG is applicable to prosecutors’ and public defenders’ offices, big law, general counsels’ positions, and compliance counsel opportunities. As such, OIG is a great landing spot for your summer and will help build your resume for a variety of career trajectories.

Kathryn and Nicole commented that they look for interns with strong writing experience who pay close attention to detail and have an interest in government work and a public service ethos. OIG is a mission driven agency that works towards bettering City government, so the ideal intern is one who is interested in and motivated by the same mission. If you’re looking for an organization to work for through the bridge-to-practice program, OIG is open to hosting bridge-to-practice fellows in the future as well.

Career Paths to OIG:

New AIGs have a wide variety of experience, and have backgrounds in criminal prosecution, big law, white collar defense, policy and public affairs, and judicial clerkships. Chief AIG Kathryn Richards started her career as a Seventh Circuit Staff Attorney’s office clerk before becoming an AIG herself. Her clerkship was tremendously helpful in preparing her for a career at OIG because she studied federal law, criminal procedure, and dealt with section 1983 lawsuits.

Nicole Klein, AIG and 2009 NDLS law graduate, spent over seven years as a prosecutor at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and clerked at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and St. Joseph’s County Public Defenders Office before her hire at OIG.

Nicole said that working for OIG is extremely rewarding and fulfilling, because the Office, both proactively and reactively, makes use of its various functions (Audit and Program Review, Investigations, Hiring Oversight, and Public Safety) to holistically improve City government. Attorneys apply their skills to a well-balanced mix of legal writing, fieldwork, and legal counsel duties. Her advice to public interest minded students is to be aggressive in job hunts by being open to new opportunities, keep job searches broad, and be creative in identifying to which agencies to apply.

If you’re interested in reaching out to Nicole, email me and I will gladly pass on her contact information. She is always happy to speak with NDLS students.

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