Centennial Celebration
CityTime 2? Liu Urges Emergency Call Probe

Chief Leader - January 11, 2011

by FLORA FAIR

In further fallout from the CityTime scandal, City Comptroller John C. Liu has asked Mayor Bloomberg to review the similarly troubled Emergency Communications Transformation Program.

ECTP, a technology program establishing unified emergency call centers in Brooklyn and The Bronx, is mired in cost overruns, missed deadlines and mismanagement—much like CityTime.

$380M Hasn't Done Trick

The $380-million contract for ECTP, awarded to Hewlett-Packard in 2005, included two call centers for police, fire, and EMS dispatchers and was scheduled for completion in 2010. Those centers are to be used by the dispatchers for Unified Call Taking, a process that has been lambasted by Fire Department unions.

The ECTP project has drawn criticism from unions that think it's another attempt to consolidate processes that should remain diversified. "What the city has been doing over the years has been taking away our redundancy and trying to crush it into a couple of buildings, and we have concerns about that," EMS union spokesman Robert Ungar said. "Do we really want to have our emergency communications center in the middle of buildings we don't control?"

This is similar to concerns about the UCT, which FDNY and EMS unions say is making fire emergency response less effective.

"I think it's hard for the public to understand that this administration is spending billions on communication systems that were supposed to be done years ago for dramatically less money," said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy, who applauded the Comptroller's efforts.

According to the Comptroller's Office, the Brooklyn center is a year behind schedule and was "troubled by findings of poor management and less than satisfactory oversight by the original vendor." As a result, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications submitted a contract in November for an additional $286 million to replace Hewlett-Packard with Northrop Grumman in establishing the Bronx call center system, and to possibly take over management for the remaining work in Brooklyn.

'Serious Red Flags'

The Comptroller rejected the DoITT contract request, citing a lack of sufficient information and "serious red flags." In a Jan. 3 letter to the Mayor, Mr. Liu said that the DoITT contract and the project itself had issues similar to CityTime, including unspecified time and expense costs that allow consultants to charge exorbitant fees, multiple layers of subcontractors, and significant cost overruns in a budget that has swelled to $666 million.

Several consultants and subcontractors involved in CityTime, an electronic timekeeping system for municipal workers, were charged last month with defrauding the city of $80 million. Former Executive Director of the Office of Payroll Administration Joel Bondy resigned his post after documents revealed his glowing assessment of Spherion, which handled quality assurance for CityTime. Four of the six persons criminally charged in the case were employed by Spherion, where Mr. Bondy also had previously worked.

In his letter, the Comptroller called this an opportunity "to make sure that additional measures or safety nets are installed to prevent waste and fraud," saying this is a public-safety project that must be done on time and on budget. DoITT plans to re-submit the contract request.

Mr. Liu released a report last May outlining the city's large IT projects. In it, his office concluded that up to $190.7 million of city money used for IT system-development projects may have been poorly spent, including up to $125.3 million in cost overruns.

Following charges that CityTime consultants bilked the city out of $80 million, Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith was ordered to do a full review of all technology projects. Mr. Liu wants him to add ECTP to the list.

"We will be working with the Comptroller to resolve any concerns and ensure this important project, which has already improved public safety in the city, can move forward," Mayor's Office spokesman Marc LaVorgna said.

At an earlier press conference, Mayor Bloomberg said that new Citywide Emergency Communications Director Skip Funk, who oversees ECTP, would be looking into all 911 functions for the city.