New York City's private computer army keeps mushrooming under Mayor Bloomberg - and no one has any idea of its exact size.
What we do know is the city's overall contract spending has doubled to more than $10 billion in the last five years - and a huge part of the increase is for technology contracts.
Those computer armies can be found inside every city agency. Its foot soldiers sit at city desks.
They carry city ID cards. They spend all their time - often years - devising and maintaining huge information systems with Orwellian names like NYC WIN, ECTP, ACRIS, NICE, CitiServ.
Yet the outside contractors remain a world apart from the ordinary civil servants of our city. The techies routinely bill taxpayers for enormous salaries.
Since their salaries often come out of the city's capital budget, their names, titles and pay rates rarely appear in any expense reports the mayor makes public.
Last week, Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James took a bold step. She introduced a bill that would require an annual report on the size and cost of outside contractors.
"This period of budget deficits is not the time to increase outsourcing," James said.
This column has documented for more than two years the runaway costs of such contracts. They include:
- The 63 consultants from a little-known Florida-based company, Future Technology Associates, being paid an average of $250,000 a year to develop a new financial accounting system for the Department of Education. All of this money went to a firm that had no office and operated out of a mail drop.
- The 230 consultants from defense giant SAIC who were paid an average of $400,000 a year - some of them for a decade - to design and install the infamous CityTime payroll and timekeeping system.
- The nearly 200 Hewlett-Packard consultants who spent years overseeing the $2 billion upgrade to the city's 911 system, known as ECTP. Before Hewlett-Packard was bounced from the job for repeated delays and cost overruns, most of its consultants were being paid between $300,000 and $400,000.
- The $500 million paid to Northrop Grumman to erect NYC WIN, a wireless network for first responders that has been dogged by problems. On top of that initial expense, the city pays Northrop $37 million annually just to maintain NYC WIN.
Under Northrop's contract, a low-level help desk operator is paid $185,000 annually. Meanwhile, a help desk operator directly employed by the city receives $46,000. Throw in pension and health insurance and the cost of that city employee barely reaches $70,000 - about a third of what Northrop charges.
In 2009, lawmakers in Albany required every state agency to provide annual reports on the number and cost of all outside contracts. Consultant costs have plummeted ever since.
James wants the same thing for the city, but Christine Quinn, the Council's powerful speaker, is bobbing and weaving. A close ally of the mayor, Quinn says she supports legislation to better track outside contracts, but she has yet to back making public the actual number of consultants per agency and their salaries.
Why the hesitation?
Taxpayers have a right to know how many $400,000-a-year consultants it takes to build one of these troubled computer systems.