DoITT Commish Paul Cosgrave Resigns Following Problems With 911 System Upgrade

NY Daily News - December 02, 2009

by Juan Gonzalez

A key official in charge of the city's problem-plagued 911 system upgrade has resigned.

Paul Cosgrave, commissioner of the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications, will retire on Dec. 31.

"He made a commitment to the mayor to stay through the duration of his second term, and he's doing that," DoITT spokesman Nick Sbordone said.

Under Cosgrave's watch, the 911 project, one of the biggest public safety efforts of the Bloomberg era, has ballooned in cost from $1.3 billion to $2 billion - and portions are two years behind schedule.

Moreover, DoITT was so lax in supervising the project, known as the Emergency Communications Transformation Project, that its staff scurried at one point to produce written authorization for vendors to do millions of dollars in work many months after those tasks had been completed, documents obtained by the Daily News show.

One portion of the project that did begin this year, Unified Call Taking, has produced a raft of embarrassing incidents in which 911 police operators transmitted wrong addresses to fire dispatchers.

The sheer number of address snafus has forced City Hall to backtrack and temporarily allow fire dispatchers to listen in on phone calls when 911 operators are taking down information about fires.

Meanwhile, the City Council has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 10 to review the entire 911 upgrade.

"The city has acknowledged the system is not working to perfection," said Bronx Councilman James Vacca, chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee.

"In a fire, a few seconds can mean a person's life or property is lost."

City Hall spokesman Jason Post concedes that the Emergency Communications Transformation Project has had some problems, but he says it is still bringing the 911 system into the 21st century.

When he launched he launched the project in 2005, Bloomberg designated DoITT as the lead agency.

It was hoped then that the technology gurus could resolve any turf battles between the NYPD, the FDNY and EMS over unifying their separate dispatch systems.

"But we had so few city employees supervising the [project] then that the vendors were running everything, and the PD, Fire, EMS brass were always fighting among themselves and demanding more changes," said a source involved with the project.

One March 2008 Cosgrave memo obtained by The News notes that a Hewlett-Packard subcontractor in charge of construction improvements at 1 Police Plaza had expected to make "only three floor-plan revisions" of the work, but "15 floorplan revisions were made before gaining NYPD acceptance."

Total cost overrun for that portion - $14.5 million.

Meanwhile, equipment produced for the ECTP by major vendors like Motorola and Verizon turned out to be riddled with problems, city officials acknowledge.

In the case of Motorola, the city eventually canceled a contract for a new police computer-assisted dispatch system and received a $33 million settlement in February 2008 from Hewlett-Packard, the overall contractor on the project.

Hewlett-Packard immediately balked at doing further work on the other portions of the project until it got paid for all its outstanding invoices.

A few weeks later, Cosgrave submitted a 34-page request to the city's Office of Management and Budget to pay Hewlett-Packard an additional $89 million for the project.

Much of that was for unexpected costs and for work which had been done months earlier but never authorized in writing by DoITT staff.

"This extreme condition came about as a result of administrative changes at both DoITT and the vendor resulting in a misunderstanding," Cosgrave claimed in a separate letter to OMB.

He promised that future authorizations "will be presented on a timely basis."

Post denied Cosgrave's $89 million request was for "additional payments" for Hewlett-Packard.

It was "for work included in the original contract budget," he said.

As for Cosgrave's retirement, it has nothing to do with any problems in 911 modernization, Sbordone said.