Friday, January 21, 2011

Hot Time in the City

The Bloomberg administration's CityTime scandal just keeps getting better-and now, according to the NYC Comptroller, it looks as if the current $700 million working model doesn't come with an owner's manual. Juan Gonzales has the story: "Will taxpayers be held hostage to the CityTime money pit for years to come? Defense giant SAIC, the main contractor on the scandal-plagued $700 million timekeeping and payroll project, failed to provide city officials with so much vital information about the system's design that no one else
can operate or maintain it. That's the astonishing conclusion of a new study of CityTime by accounting firm KPMG."

This is simply ridiculous-and as the WSJ reports, it may mean that the new way to tell city time is in perpetuity: "The KPMG report is troubling, Mr. Liu said, because it suggests the city will need SAIC "in perpetuity." "The CityTime product as it currently stands may allow the vendor to maintain an indefinite monopoly on the development and maintenance of New York City's timekeeping system," Mr. Liu said. "The emerging product holds the client—the City of New York—hostage to one company, the project's developer."

So now the City of New York, after giving SAIC hundreds of millions of dollars, has been reduced to a mendicant-as Gonzales points out: "As part of the September deal, Bloomberg also agreed to issue a new request for proposals to allow other companies to compete for maintenance and operation of the payroll system after July 1. But the KPMG report could now delay that time line for months. It concludes that "existing documentation is not currently sufficient" for the city or another private vendor to take over operation of the project. Vital system information and records were so poorly maintained, KPMG found, that before the city can look for a new vendor, it must address a half-dozen "high-priority" problems in its own information about the system. Officials are now faced with pressuring SAIC to turn over all the missing documentation. (emphasis added)

Which brings us back to the mayor's State of the City address-the one where the mayor played his little Emily Litella bit and acted as if CityTime and the snowfu never happened. But, as Clyde Haberman highlights, the mayor is trying to feign empathy-with his road show out to Staten Island supposed to signify that he isn't Manhattan-centric: "How can New Yorkers living in the “outer boroughs” — a terrible phrase sorely in need of reinvention — not feel the love emanating from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg? He has delivered 10 State of the City addresses, and all but one of them were in locations outside Manhattan."

But the snowstorm-and the mayor's Bermuda sojourn-has convinced most New Yorkers that this act is pure zirconium: "The problem for the mayor is that New Yorkers in those four boroughs would like to feel that they are on his mind more than one day in January every year. In fact, he can point to accomplishments in their behalf. He made sure to do so on Wednesday in the baroque setting of the restored St. George Theater, near the ferry terminal on Staten Island. But reputations have a way of hardening. Mr. Bloomberg’s critics have pegged him as someone thoroughly uninterested in anything that takes place beyond his ZIP code, unless perhaps it is in District of Columbia 20500, which encompasses public housing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

The reality is that Mike Bloomberg spends more time in Bermuda and, God knows where else most weekends, than he has ever spent in Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. It's getting so bad that Bloomberg may soon be able to avoid paying the city income tax. Haberman, however, feels that the criticism of the mayor's absence is becoming a bit extreme: "A few of them criticized Mr. Bloomberg for ignoring the snowstorm in his speech on Wednesday instead of flagellating himself and his minions one more time. That the storm caused misery and perhaps even tragedy is indisputable. But the assaults on the administration have begun to look like piling on."

Really? Bloomberg has been able to avoid criticism for the better part of nine years-and sneak off on weekends with nary a reporter or editor seeing this as any kind of a problem. So to us, it is only appears to be piling on because of how minimal the criticism he has been subject to for so many years. And the mayor's failures that were revealed so dramatically in December, erode his well crafted imagine of competence-an image that has been shattered not only be the reality of his under performance, but his absence from the scene as well.

Which brings us back to CityTime, a computer project that dramatizes the inattention of the mayor to the mundane tasks of governance-and in an area where his private sector success was cultivated, which makes the failure even more grievous. We'll give Juan Gonzales the last word here, but it won't be the last word on the CityTime debacle: "Now we learn that for $700 million, the city got a system it can't operate itself. Bloomberg would never allow an outside vendor to exercise such unprecedented control over the computer systems of his own company. So why does he accept it for the payroll system of New York City workers?"