Mayor Bloomberg’s “slipped through the cracks” explanation for the massive fraud and cost overruns at the CityTime payroll computerization project was already pretty lame when he gave it. Today it’s looking a whole lot lamer.
That’s because of a tough letter dug out of the cracks of the city’s archives by city comptroller John Liu and reported today by the Times and Juan Gonzalez in the News . It shows that more than seven years ago, the former director of the Office of Payroll Administration had scathing criticisms of the outside contractor overseeing the project which was supposed to cost $63 million and has since soared to more than $600 million. Richard Valcich tagged Science Applications International, Inc. as being chronically and purposely late in order to boost profits. “SAIC has repeatedly been late on virtually every deliverable,” wrote Valcich in his February, 2003 letter. The company’s “commitment to quality is almost non-existent and is reflected from the top down,” Valcich stated.
At one point in the six-page techno-rant, Valcich sarcastically suggests that SAIC would probably be trying by the end of the year to stick the city for “8,000 hours” pay for shoddy work.
That’s pretty tough language for a bureaucrat. But it apparently had zero effect on Bloomberg and his high-tech technocrats who so pride themselves as cost-conscious managers. When Valcich retired in 2004, he was replaced by Joel Bondy, who had worked as a consultant for another company involved in the stunningly bungled project which is still two-thirds incomplete. Bondy was suspended without pay last week after owners of two CityTime subcontractors were charged with stealing $80 million by inflating their hours and costs.
Last week, Bloomberg went on the radio to bemoan how hard it is to keep track of these things. “You can’t look everyplace,” he told John Gambling on Friday. The mayor insisted that he wasn’t offering any excuses, but then went ahead and gave one: “If you want to know how big projects have big things that slip through the cracks, this is as good an example as you need,” he said.
But the Valcich letter shows that at least someone on the mayor’s team was trying back then to make sure the problem wasn’t ignored. City unions, especially Local 375 representing city technical workers, were also trying to blow the whistle, to no avail.