Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bloomberg's Contracted a Disease

The other day we commented on the city council's move to restrict outsourcing-citing the WSJ article: "The City Council is expected to approve legislation aimed at reining in the billions of taxpayer dollars that are spent annually on outside contracts, a move that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration contends will increase government inefficiency and bureaucracy."

Well, it appears as if the stopped clock council is telling the right time on this issue because now we have found out-via the NY Times-that another city computer initiative has hit the competency shoals: "Soon after becoming mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg announced a plan to modernize the computer system that handles personnel information for New York City’s vast work force. The $66 million project was to be one of the signature technological innovations of his tenure. Nine years later, his administration has already spent $363 million — and the work is far from done."

On the heels of the CityTime scandal we have this-and how pathetic is this when it comes from an administration whose leader has amassed a freakin' fortune exploiting computer technology! But the culprit here is a lack of managerial acumen-and the use of outside contractors who apparently were left to their own devices:

"The administration has pressed ahead despite repeated warnings that the project is deeply troubled, according to a review of thousands of pages of city records, as well as dozens of interviews with officials and private contractors. The administration’s own internal monitors regularly filed reports detailing chronic mismanagement, cost overruns and rampant waste."

Mismanagement and rampant waste procured by the richest man in the room. How droll. But the most shocking accusation-from someone who was in the room and should know-is one of incompetence: "It was a runaway project,” said Raj Agarwal, a city official who managed the early stages of the new system before resigning in frustration over what he saw as the administration’s incompetence."

Is this going to be the Bloomberg legacy? That he couldn't manage to get the computers running on time-and under budget? But this gets to the heart of the outsourcing debate-and as we said yesterday it is not about who gets to do the work but the money spent and the oversight of the work:

"The administration has already weathered a scandal surrounding another sprawling project, CityTime, which was supposed to revamp the city’s payroll operations. The little-known tale of the personnel system offers fresh evidence that Mr. Bloomberg, who made his fortune revolutionizing information technology for Wall Street, has had difficulty carrying out a pledge to do the same with city government.

In both projects, the administration, bent on proving that outside consultants could improve the workings of government, ignored clear signs that the projects were foundering, the interviews and records show.

“No sense of economy, efficiency or value is evident in any area of the project,” the administration’s contract monitors wrote about the personnel system in March 2003, according to an internal report obtained under the Freedom of Information Law

Third Term Mike has got a lot of explaining to do-and his early self praise can now be repeated as mockery: "City Council members questioned the costs, but Mr. Bloomberg saw high-tech innovation as his mandate. “The people that thought I had the skills to be the mayor at this period would say, ‘Yes, that is one of the reasons we wanted Bloomberg,’ ” he said in 2002. “ ‘He modernizes things and brings people together with technology.’ ”

Well, as far as CityTime is concerned he's probably right since a number of those contractors will be spending a lot of time together-in federal prison. But what's clear is that the mayor's management style of delegating stuff to others is lacking-and that New Yorkers should never have given him another four years.

Which brings us back to Willets Point-where we have an unaccountable development agency outsourcing consulting work that is also unaccountable-unaccountable for any degree of accuracy. Or, in our view, unaccountable squared!

Three years after the city council approved the development NYC EDC is still stuck in the mud-in a ditch right below the off ramp.-and no one in the Bloomberg camp has yet to give this fiasco a price tag. Perhaps when this hapless sucker leaves office his successor will total up the bill-get appropriate sticker shock-and send this fantasy land project to the circular file.