NYC 911 Improvement Plan Is $1 Billion Over Budget, Liu Says

New York City’s attempt to improve its 911 emergency-communications system has cost $1 billion more than budgeted, for a total expense of $2.3 billion, Comptroller John Liu said.

The project, created in 2004 to consolidate communications among the fire and police departments and emergency medical services, was supposed to create two call centers by 2008. They won’t be finished until 2015, the audit reported. The city hired Hewlett Packard Co. as project manager in 2005; Northrop Grumman Corp. came in to develop the second center in January 2011.

“Auditors found an alarming lack of decision-making by City Hall which led to major technical missteps, the abandonment of a critical objective and poor vendor performance,” Liu’s office said in a statement.

The audit follows a March 14 settlement between the U.S. Attorney’s office and Science Applications International Corp., in which the company agreed to pay more than $500 million to the city as reimbursement for overcharges and fraud related to an Internet-based payroll-management system.

“Taxpayers are just tired of hearing about out-of-control projects involving expensive outside consultants,” Liu said in a statement. Liu, a 45-year-old Democrat, has been included by pollsters in surveys about potential 2013 mayoral candidates.

Change in Scope

Caswell Holloway, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s deputy for operations, said in an interview that the project’s increased costs reflected a change in scope, including a decision to construct a $700 million back-up call center in the Bronx, instead of using an existing building in Queens.

The Bloomberg administration identified the problems cited in Liu’s audit years ago and acted upon them, Holloway said.

“We took aggressive actions to address them years ago, so the audit is a non-event. It validates management decisions already made,” Holloway said in an interview.

Liu’s audit said the administration disregarded warnings about the project’s progress from the agency as early as 2007. A 2009 report by the Gartner Group, a consulting firm, said the project suffered from “lack of timely and effective decision making” and a “lack of a clearly defined strategy and direction.”

A computerized dispatch system never became operational, resulting in additional expenditures, the audit found. In 2010, the Bloomberg administration created the Office of Citywide Emergency Communications as coordinator of the project.

“The agency has been plagued by personnel changes and leadership problems since its creation,” remaining almost 40 percent below its targeted staffing as of September 2011, the audit said.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

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