Institute of Politics

Joe Ferguson

Former Inspector General for the City of Chicago

Joseph Ferguson recently concluded a 12-year tenure as the Inspector General for the City of Chicago, where he led a 100-person independent municipal oversight agency spanning the administrations of three mayors in the third largest city in the United States. Under his stewardship the Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) garnered national prominence and acclaim for its government performance audits covering a wide range of city agencies and programs, criminal and administrative investigations, audit-based evaluations and inspections of the Chicago Police Department (CPD), and the creation of a model user-friendly, interactive government data visualization platform for the public. The Chicago OIG’s investigations work resulted in the prosecution of numerous elected and appointed public officials, and disciplinary actions in a number of police misconduct matters including a large cohort of front-line and high-ranking CPD members for their actions in the aftermath of the murder of teenager Laquan McDonald by a CPD officer. The office’s government performance audit work was the recipient of multiple national awards.

Ferguson was a member of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force (PATF) which issued a landmark report on the historical practices of CPD that for generations worked adverse disparate impacts on Black and brown communities in Chicago and issued sweeping structural and policy reform recommendations. A by-product of the PATF was the creation of the Chicago OIG’s civilian police oversight unit - the Public Safety Inspector General - whose work, including published reports on CPD’s handling of the George Floyd Demonstrations and Civil Unrest and CPD’s Gang Database, has garnered national attention. Ferguson also served as co-chair of the Procurement Reform Task Force which prompted the institution of award-winning municipal procurement and contracting reform. As Inspector General, Ferguson was a member of numerous national oversight task forces and working groups, including those led by the United States Comptroller General, the National Intergovernmental Audit Forum and the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia University. He has testified and presented at numerous government hearings and professional and academic conferences. He presently serves on the national board of the Association of Inspectors General.

Prior to his work as Chicago Inspector General, Ferguson spent 15 years in the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Northern District of Illinois. During the first five years, he was a civil litigator representing the United States before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a broad array of subject matters including employment discrimination (Title VII), civil rights, environmental enforcement and government program fraud. Ferguson’s civil work included a landmark environmental case litigated to the United States Supreme Court and the first of its kind use of civil forfeiture law against designated terrorists and terrorist organizations. He followed that experience with ten years in the Chicago USAO Criminal Division, where he investigated and prosecuted public corruption, financial, healthcare, tax and government program frauds, terrorist financing, and labor racketeering and narcotics trafficking cases. He served as the Chief of the USAO Money Laundering and Forfeiture Section, and also held positions as Deputy Chief of Financial Crimes & Special Prosecutions and Terrorist Financing Coordinator. He received the U.S. Justice Department’s Director’s Award and was honored by the President’s Council on Integrity & Efficiency for his leading role on a task force that prosecuted large scale government program fraud.

Ferguson’s paralleling academic activities include being co-founder and co-director of the Loyola University (Chicago) Law School National Security and Civil Rights program where he teaches and conducts programming on topics related to national security. He has also held teaching posts at the University Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School and Lake Forest College. He has taught in multiple capacities for the U.S. Justice Department, including as an instructor at its National Advocacy Center as well in Eastern Europe and the Middle East for the USDOJ Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development and Training Office.

Ferguson began his legal career as law clerk to the Hon. Myron H. Bright of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the Hon. Suzanne B. Conlon of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. After his clerkships, Ferguson started his legal career as a litigation associate at Sidley Austin handling anti-trust and commercial litigation matters, as well as pro bono death penalty work before the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. He received his B.A. from Lake Forest College, which recently named him an honorary Doctor of Laws, and his J.D. from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. His decades-long commitment to Chicago has yet to compromise his ardor for the professional sports teams from his native Boston.


"Governance, Oversight & Society"

Independent government oversight bodies are designed and required by law to function in a nonpolitical manner, notwithstanding the inevitable politicization of their work. However, they are little understood in origin, function or institutional positionality and capacity. This seminar series will seek to illuminate independent government oversight within formal and operational power structures and work with students to understand and value that positionality as critical to this moment given the prevailing state of polarization, imbalance and dysfunction. We will explore the models, best practices, and leading practitioners in the field, placing them in the context of the larger operation of government, with distinction being drawn between federal and local government levels. The seminar will then move to the evolving role and efficacy of independent government oversight in the context of the most vexing governance challenge today - police accountability and reform. Building from that focal point, the seminar will explore the relationship and synergies of government oversight bodies with key accountability elements - the media and community advocacy organizations and movements. We will engage guest practitioners in government accountability from different segments of civil society.

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