Which city and state agencies let businesses watchdog themselves?

Companies and organizations could soon have huge incentives to report their own violations of anti-pollution regulations, if a draft “self-auditing” policy is implemented by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Entities that use pesticides, treat wastewater and store hazardous chemicals could have penalties reduced or waived if they agree to report violations, according an internal draft of the policy obtained by Gotham Gazette. By signing on to self-audit, they would also “not be prioritized for inspection during the audit period.”

Proponents of initiatives to have businesses certify or audit themselves for compliance with government regulations argue that it encourages cooperation and good behavior. But critics point to the lack of transparency and accountability in the process of any entity policing itself.

Today’s Daily Q asks: Which city and state agencies allow or encourage self-reporting of compliance with state and local laws?

What we found

Self-reporting is nothing new in New York.

The city’s Department of Buildings has had a self-certification system in place since 1995, allowing architects and engineers to determine that their plans are compliant with the relevant laws.This includes submitting information that shows the construction conforms to the zoning resolution and building code, and also assures a structure’s safety.

Exploitation of the self-certification program prompted Mayor Michael Bloomberg to sign new laws in 2007 requiring the buildings department to suspend or revoke the self-certification privileges of any professional engineer or registered architect who “knowingly or negligently” certifies false or non compliant building applications or plans.

City workers, meanwhile, are sometimes rewarded by the Conflicts of Interest Board for stepping forward and reporting violations of city ethics rules. After facing penalties for violating a rule forbidding former city officials from doing business with their agencies immediately following their city service, former school principal Adele Fabrikant, noted that if she had not voluntarily reported her rule-breaking conduct, “the amount of the fine to be imposed by the Board…would have been significantly higher.”

And it turns out almost anyone can get a taste of what it’s like to assure the state of New York that you’re a law-abiding resident. Just last year, the Department of Motor Vehicles did away with its mandated vision test for drivers’ license renewals, as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s government streamlining process. Instead, drivers are now asked to self-report whether they can see what’s on the road.

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