Government Reform

The Little IT Program That Could Bankrupt New York City


From the comments in my earlier post about how states and cities go bust (they spend too much, duh!), comes this tale of a New York City IT program that has metastisized from an original cost-to-complete price tag of $68 million to a new, obviously not-serious total of $721 million.

The CityTime system—assuming that it is finally completed—will cover 140,000 city workers who, instead of filling out paper timesheets, will need to scan their hands into a biometric reader to record their comings and goings. The system currently covers 45,000 employees, 19,000 of whom must use it to clock in and out each day and during their lunch hours.  City workers earning more than $68,000 don't have to use the palm scanners, which makes the New York City unions angry.

The project was initiated in 1998 at an estimated cost of $68 million…. This 2008 CityLimits article says the project contract, which I assume includes system maintenance, could run to 2021.

The current estimated cost to complete is now placed at a whopping $722 million, with some $670 million of that going to the defense contractor SAIC for the system's development. According to this article in the New York Daily News, most of the remaining tens of millions have been spent on outside contract and project management to control the project's cost and quality.

It's like the '70s in New York never went away! More, including Mayor Bloomberg's lack of interest in actually killing or containing the program's costs, here.

Another outrage from today's blog: The California city of Vallejo, which is in bankruptcy, won't take a serious whack at the very pension and benefits outrages that have put the gummint in the poorhouse!

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  1. “$670 million of that going to the defense contractor SAIC”

    Great – I own a shitload of SAIC – rubbing hands and chuckling (evilly)

  2. I’ve always wondered about the contractors who get these endless money rivers on shit projects. Do they know they’re bullshit projects, milking the government? Or are there a cadre of programmers who have dedicated their careers making this project work. “Just one more tweak and we’ll the login page to work right.”

    I’ve seen these kind of endless, undead IT projects in corporations and once they’re recognized AND key internal political changes are made, they can be killed. I’ve only seen one of these up close in government. It was an intial project planning and budgeting for a device for the 2010 census. After the first meeting I told my boss that I was going to make sure to be in a different job by the time this project crashed and she should be also. [Project failed testing of basic requirements and went 250% over initial estimates – will only play a small part in census.]

    1. They sometimes know, but are shuffled in and out of the project. The ones that should know are the project managers and other higher ups who are the ones with the “vision” and “passion” and blah blah blah for some boring piece of crap government software. And then there are the people throwing up roadblocks left and right, who mainly care about having something to do to justify their position, which means throwing up roadblocks.

      They aren’t conscious enough to be aware of how big they’re making the boondoggle.

  3. I love that headline.

    Ahh, the good ol’ days.

  4. I worked for a consulting firm that got a contract to do a project for the NYC DOT. They were so incredibly disorganized that we got close to the end of the project and then the boss–a woman solely interested in climbing the DOT ladder–asked why we couldn’t geolocate stuff inside of buildings. When we said “uh, you never, not once, asked for that, and besides, it can’t be done with what we’re using”, she declared the project tabled. That was after $250,000 had been spent.

    1. The NYC subway camera system had the same issue.

      Starts like this…..items/2272

      But ends up like this…..-contract/

    2. And it continues…..-lockheed/

  5. Am I missing something here?

    Sounds like each major department could have gotten their own System i (AS400), ran Kronos and the city could have employed maybe 10-12 people to collect and centralize that information and saved hundreds of millions.

    Companies with tens of thousands of people manage to use one server with a cost under $1 million described to track time across multiple states, shifts, etc. and manage to keep the whole project WELL under $15 million. Even buying all new clocks and a brand new 10-times-larger-then-necessary system wouldn’t see the costs go past the 30s.

    Disclaimer:I’ve worked on the System i platform for years and worked for a company that used Kronos on a large scale for Time & Attendance.

    I wonder what Costco uses for their TA system-they’re an AS400 shop and Wikipedia says they have approximately 147,000 employees.

  6. “City workers earning more than $68,000 don’t have to use the palm scanners, which makes the New York City unions angry.”

    Obvious solution? Pay all union workers over $68,000…

  7. So 720 mill divided by the 140,000 users this system is supposed to track comes out to $5,150 per user??? This is obviously a scam to milk funds from some no-bid type of deal…

  8. My liberal acquaintances tell me that it will all be different for ObamaCare.

    Evidently, unicorn farts are deficit neutral.

    1. You just don’t understand it.

  9. As an IT consultant, I can only tip my hat to my brave NY brothers.

    Might as well steal it from the city, who knows what they would have wasted it on otherwise.

  10. This article is terrible mis-informed. Episiarch, has it right. I worked on this project. It wasn’t some sweetheart deal that the city gave SAIC. It was a failed project from another company that SAIC at great risk took over.

    Union rules make keeping time in a Commercial off the shelf system like Kronos impossible. The city’s current system was coded in the 70’s and can’t really be maintianed any longer.

    This project pissed alot of people off and cooperation wasn’t always forthcoming.

    Every union has its own contract with its own pay rules. CityTime has to deal with all of them.

    No one was making the money mentioned in the article. Those were the prices SAIC was charging which went to pay not just for salary, but for office space in manhattan multiple computers for each developer, and all the software needed to write and run the code they worked on.

    The project is a boondoggle but not for any reasons mentioned here. SAIC is a poor company but they actually have done a better than expected job.

  11. So, once again, we find that union contracts are the root of all (municipal budgeting) evil.

  12. This is pretty much business as usual for the city. It’s not that surprising, really…do your job on time and within budget, nobody cares. Waste your original budget, claim that you need tens of millions more, and you’ll get it. It’s not like you’ll get cut off – if the city needs more money, it will just tax the people more.

  13. What’s the laws regarding your employer giving biometeric data to law enforcement?

    1. If they don’t, they’ll be tased.

  14. SAIC is a company that is very, very good at government contracting. They see the point of the contract not as producing a deliverable but as maintaining the cash flow associated with the contract for as long as possible. According to their logic, actually delivering the product is a failure because then the contract is done. And, yes, they are doing on purpose. Having dealt with them when they were lying about what they would deliver for FCS, I know.

    The program managers eagerly abet them for various reasons. In defense contracting, very few military officers or SES poobahs are willing to say, “You have failed to deliver and are therefore fired.”

    Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I like Gates. He really impressed me when he fired the F-35 PM and told Lockheed to kiss their “performance bonus” goodbye. If he can make it stick, I’ll be really impressed.

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