Back on track: The city’s inspection bureau kicks off the cobwebs

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Prior to a major management turnover in March, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection was faced with a swelling backlog of inspection requests. The administrative lag was due not to an unwieldy volume of requests but a gross mismanagement of resources.

BBI — tasked with issuing and reviewing construction permits, ensuring compliance with building safety regulations and regulating amusement, business and trade licenses — was found to have been shirking the use of technology. Despite having used taxpayers’ money to purchase automated processing software in 2009 and 41 employee laptops in 2010, management had stowed assistive devices in a closet at the bureau’s Ross Street headquarters, which was not even wired for Internet access.

Hey — isn’t this 2014?

In response to the inability of BBI to address ordinance violations in a timely manner, a number of Oakland residents banded together in 2011 to create Oakwatch. The code enforcement volunteer force does some of the things BBI inspectors failed to do, identifying and alerting city officials of over-occupancy, property neglect, graffiti and illegal dumping.

With the arrival of Maura Kennedy five months ago as chief of BBI, the bureau has begun to address its systemic inefficiency by distributing laptops to inspectors and taking steps to manage permit applications, reviews and payments via an online platform.

Yet even as the bureau replaces its antiquated archive cabinets with 21st-century devices, it still fails to conduct inspections within the 30-day time frame ordained by the state’s Uniform Construction Code, often leaving Oakwatchers and other Pittsburgh residents to identify violations.

While BBI is working hard to clean up its act, it must do so with increased urgency. Enforcement of the law is not the responsibility of the public but of the officials who are paid to ensure public safety.

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