2011-03-25 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Mr. Mayor, It’s Time To Put The People First
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Two weeks ago I wrote about how the Department of Education is threatening to lay off 4,675 teachers, 100 of whom would come from the Rockaway area, because of budget cuts. Yet in the upcoming year, the DOE will be increasing technology contracts by $24 million annually, for a total of $52 million a year spent on such consultants.

Well, it seems the DOE is not the only city agency paying out hefty tech contracts. As he prepared his 2012 budget, Mayor Bloomberg asked for across the board budget cuts from city agencies. Yet according to Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, outside contracts throughout city government, many of which are tech related, have “doubled to more than $10 billion in the last five years.” All this while teachers and other city workers are facing layoffs, the FDNY has cut back on manpower, senior centers and children’s day care centers are facing closures, the elderly could face elimination of home delivered meals and agencies from the Administration for Children’s Services to our libraries face steep cuts. Citizens could lose vital services while outside consultants are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in salaries.

Gonzalez provided a list of some of the contracts the city has taken on. A brief look at the expenditures shows that much of the money was ill spent.

The ECTP project was an attempt to upgrade the city’s 911 system. Hewlett- Packard’s approximately 200 consultants were paid between $300,000 to $400,000 each on the $2 billion project. The city was rewarded with constant delays and cost overruns. The CityTime payroll and time keeping system cost approximately $740 million over several decades. Two-hundred and thirty consultants from SAIC were paid in the neighborhood of $400,000 annually. Over the last year, CityTime has become synonymous with scandal and misconduct. In March 2010 Bloomberg said about CityTime, “It’s been a disaster. It is one of these massive computer projects that very seldom ever is successful.”

The DOE paid 63 consultants from a Florida company, Future Technology Associates, to put together a new accounting system. According to Juan Gonzalez each consultant was paid “an average of $250,000” and the company “had no office and operated out of a mail drop.” The city paid Northrop Grumman to put together a wireless system for first responders. It initially paid $500 million to get things up and running and continues to pay the company $37 million to maintain it.

Bloomberg’s reasoning to change the law so he could run for a third term was that he was the only one who could successfully steer the city through the recession. His expertise at having created a successful financial information services firm – that eventually became Bloomberg LP –which added on a news service, magazine, cable network, and a radio station was supposed to get us through. Yet, the decisions of this administration have many throwing their arms up in disbelief. Besides losing 100 teachers, here is some of what is at stake for Rockaway.

Rockaway would lose two of its children’s day care centers – Sheldon R. Weaver Day Care Center (the largest day care center on the east end) in Redfern and Hammels-Arverne Day Care Center on Beach 87 Street. Bloomberg also says he needs $25 million from the state or 103 senior centers, including the Young Israel of Wavecrest Senior League in Far Rockaway, and the Catholic Charities’ Seaside Senior Center on Beach 90 Street will close.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall recently warned the budget cuts in city funded programs would especially hurt children and seniors. Last year when the day care centers were first threatened, Councilman James Sanders Jr., whose district includes both Weaver and Hammels- Arverne, said, “The very young and the very old are privileged classes. They should be held harmless in these [budget] battles.”

If the city is so strapped for cash where is it getting the huge sums it pays out for consultants? That money needs to be redirected. Apparently City Comptroller John Liu feels this needs looking into. This week his office announced that Liu would be auditing two DOE tech programs – the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS), an $80 million data collection system to track students’ academic records, and iZone which was intended to increase the use of innovative technologies in the classrooms. Liu said that additional audits of city agencies are upcoming. With so much hanging in the balance – the quality of life for so many elderly, the future of our young, and the lives of those who currently and in the future need the services of any one of our city agencies – Mr. Mayor it is time to put the people first.

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