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Examining the CityTime scandal

The scandal that has now come to light with CityTime, the computerized timekeeping system that has been under development for over 10 years to handle payroll for 167,000 municipal employees, has become a major political football for people who oppose the use of outside contractors for city projects.
The contract was awarded to a different company in 1998 for $63 million. Science Applications International Corp. took over the contract in 2003 for the revised cost of $114 million. The project cost is now $700 million.
This is certainly not unheard of for a government project. However, earlier this month, six people affiliated with the project were charged with stealing $80 million. The irony of this is that they committed their theft by submitting phony timesheets, exactly the type of thing the CityTime system is supposed to prevent.
The obvious lesson here is that people willing to steal can be found in both the public and private sectors. This in no way should discredit the use of private sector contractors for public projects. In fact, they are required for many municipal projects, and they do save money in the long run. What is more instructive here is why the project has dragged on for so long and what the obstacles to implementation have been.
For starters, the project was much more complex than anyone could have imagined. NYC employs 6,000 people just to track the time of city workers, and has 4,000 different ways to classify “time.” This is due to the myriad union rules that go with each job type. The NYPD alone generates 1.5 million time sheets a month. CityTime was going to consolidate and unify all the timekeeping processes, and accurately track time worked instead of leaving it to supervisors to approximate.
Unfortunately, CityTime has had many opponents, including long-entrenched bureaucrats and union officials who preferred the vagaries of the old system. One agency, the Human Resources Administration, with 15,000 employees, was ready to change over for three years, but delayed, insisting it wasn’t ready yet. Only when the Deputy Commissioner retired was the project able to move forward. This has been typical throughout the process.
Ultimately, CityTime will save the taxpayers’ money, cutting the time it takes to process payroll by 75 percent. The real failure here was by the city. Bloomberg administration officials who were committed to this project failed to properly oversee and help guide the implementation of this project. Proper oversight by city officials could have saved millions.
Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant and an active member of the Queens Republican Party.

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