City Council Questions Officials on 911 System

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The city has been under scrutiny for its over haul of the 911 emergency dispatch system which has been plagued with cost over runs. The head of the department in charge of the system faced tough questioning during a budget hearing on Tuesday.

Rahul Merchant  took over the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) in April.  He told the council the complete overhaul of the 911 system would be done by its 2015 deadline.

Still, it’s been a tumultuous time for the agency. Merchant got a taste of it during questioning about the department’s use of consultants.

“We have issues with the millions of dollars being paid out to consultants. And then those consultants hire sub-contractors and we never learn who these are,” Finance chair Domenic Recchia stated. He wanted to know how many consultants the technology agency currently hires.

Merchant responded that the agency had 603 outside consultants that are paid about $50 million a year.  The consultants work for just over 40 different companies, according to an agency spokesman. DoITT also oversees another 294 consultants that work on technology related projects at other city agencies, the amount paid to them was not available.

 “We feel that you have a lot of people in house that could deal with these,” Recchia added to Merchant. According to DoITT’s website, the agency employs 1200 staff.

Among the cost over runs the council members questioned was a $260,000 dollar payment to contractor Hewlett-Packard for outfitting a facility in Brooklyn where 911 calls are handled by police, fire and EMS call takers. 

Charles Frazier, general counsel for DOITT, was asked for the hourly rate paid to the electricians that did the job but said he didn’t have it. “You can figure it out. It was approximately 888 hours is my recollection plus waste disposal time another 60 or something like that.” The hourly rate comes to $294 an hour.

A DoITT spokesman said the payment covered the full cabling of 488 workstations.

Beyond the 911 system, city officials said DOITT was also working on launching 250 “future pay phones.” These touch screens are to be located next to pay phones in all five boroughs and allow users to connect to 311. The screens will also have apps on neighborhood restaurants, area nightlife and shopping specials. Experimenting with the screens is part of a pilot programs to begin in the next few months. The company, City 24 x 7, will be installing and maintaining the technology at no cost to the city. The touch screens could eventually replace the 12,000 pay phones under a contract that expires in 2014.