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PEP Jul-Aug 2012
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Public Employee Press

Liu audit reveals 911 debacle and the $192 cockroach
Bloomberg's biggest budget buster


New York City Comptroller John C. Liu held a press conference May 30 to review his second audit of the Emergency Communications Transformation Program, the botched effort to streamline and upgrade the city's 911 call system.

Labeling the defective initiative "CityTime II," Comptroller Liu said, "We have long feared that CityTime was not an isolated incident, and unfortunately what we have learned is that our fear has become a reality. The contractor was able to overbill taxpayers by as much as $163 million."

Liu noted that because of the severity of the findings and potential for fraud in both the vendor selection and billing processes, he has referred the matter to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for further review.

$1 billion over budget

This follows a previous audit released by the comptroller in March that found the ECTP had only one component up and running, was seven years behind schedule, and $1 billion over budget.

The latest audit provides a litany of outrageous overcharging and missed opportunities for oversight. Some of the most egregious practices include project consultants who were unqualified and billed at higher rates than allowed. "Despite numerous failures and unsatisfactory reviews, City Hall failed to assess any damages against the contractor, Hewlett Packard," Liu said.

DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts joined Comptroller Liu at the press conference. She directed her remarks at the pending budget cuts in the face of the latest outrageous rip-off of the taxpayers. "We've been talking about this for seven years," Roberts said. "We knew that there were cost overruns. Let's put it in the context of the layoffs we've sustained and the pending layoffs. Eighty thousand dollars is the cost of a laid-off school employee's safety net. There's not one person in this room who is not impacted." Roberts noted, "The inflation rate was built into the ECTP contract, but we get no raises. I think it's a crime!"

Frontline glitches

Israel Miranda, president of Emergency Medical Service Employees Local 2507 also spoke, pointing out that the EMS responders depend on the 911 system. "My members use that system and there are a lot of glitches. Someone needs to be held accountable," he said.

Paging through the audit, which was prepared by Deputy Comptroller Tina Kim and her team, one can only wonder why nobody was in charge and how the contractor's slipshod accounting practices were not monitored and corrected. For example, the audit found a Project Specialist Level 1, a computer specialist title, someone whose actual job is as an administrative assistant, who was paid an hourly wage of $192, or more than $6,700 a week, to do the following:

DC 37 Exec. Dir. Lillian Roberts at podium with Comptroller John C. Liu at the May 30 press conference called by the comptroller to unveil the results of the second audit by his office of the wasteful project by Hewlett Packard to streamline the city's 911 call system. Calling the effort "CityTime II," Liu's audit provides a breakdown of the expenditures associated with the Emergency Communications Transformation Program. "DoITT should use the findings in the report as a starting point to determine how much can be recouped," said Liu. Cost overruns, lack of oversight and performance problems hampered the entire project.

"To print and bind documents; open the door (for five people); kill a waterbug in the ladies room; drop liquid in a bathroom to help control sewer odor." The following day, this overpaid assistant was once again busy opening the door (for four people), and was called in to have a dead waterbug picked up.

Local 1549 called attention to the persistent problems plaguing the ECTP system, such as malfunctioning equipment and dropped calls. While 911 operators face scathing criticism when things go wrong, the failures involved in upgrading the system need laser-like attention but, until Liu's audit, went undetected by the Bloomberg administration for the last seven years.

The process began with a serious flaw in the bidding when the Dept. of Information Technology and Telecommunications contracted with Hewlett Packard in 2005, although HP was unqualified because it failed to meet DoITT's minimum technical requirements for selection. The result was delays and cost overruns, and subcontractor bills that were drastically marked up.

System is shoddy

Questionable billing practices, unqualified contractors, poor oversight and failure to deliver on the three major components of the ECTP system integration translates into a project that is way over budget. One of many problems is that the process incentivizes cost overruns.

Despite a history of problems that have been evident since 2007, the Bloomberg administration has failed to assess damages to the company. Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Al Hagan, speaking at the press conference, said: "Now, thanks to the diligent work of the Comptroller's Office, we know that we were overcharged for a shoddy system."

"With one month to go before the city's budget is ratified, and with devastating cuts on the table, taxpayers should be outraged at the fleecing that transpired under City Hall's watch," Liu said.

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