Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/contracting 2019-06-20T23:32:45+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Does New York City Need a Chief Diversity Officer? 2019-04-14T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-14T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8447-does-new-york-city-need-a-chief-diversity-officer Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-office-city-hall-riders.jpg" alt="mayor office city hall riders" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many days throughout the year there are people gathered on the steps of City Hall calling on city government to make policy. On March 14, a rally of women and people of color who own businesses, organized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, focused on a change that could significantly alter the direction of city government and opportunities for those business owners and others in similar positions.</p> <p>Those in attendance were backing Stringer’s push to have the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put a proposal on the November ballot to require a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s cabinet and one at each city agency.</p> <p>Fittingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio, AirPods in his ears, walked into City Hall at the time of the rally, seemingly paying it little mind. Over the last several years, Stringer has assailed the de Blasio administration’s approach to contracting with MWBEs -- minority- and women-owned business enterprises -- and called on the mayor to add a chief diversity officer (CDO) to his administration. De Blasio has adjusted the city’s MWBE contracting goals multiple times and created an MWBE office in 2016, but he has not created the CDO position. He has also repeatedly dismissed Stringer’s criticisms.</p> <p>A second-term Democrat who created a CDO at the comptroller’s office upon taking the citywide position in 2014, Stringer has now pushed the issue to the fore as the 2019 charter commission considers what changes to the city’s central governing document and structure it will propose to voters this fall -- it is listed first among Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/A-New-Charter-to-Confront-New-Challenges.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">65 charter revision proposals</a>.</p> <p>The City Hall rally, which included Stringer, MWBE owners, faith leaders, Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, came just hours before Stringer and others testified before the commission on the subject of adding the CDO positions to the charter.</p> <p>Among other responsibilities, the CDO position would oversee city procurement and contracting with MWBEs, as well as strategies to improve those efforts. The city spends billions of procurement dollars each year to buy things such as office supplies or hire contractors on city construction projects. The CDO would also focus on issues of equity and diversity in city government, with each CDO at individual city agencies handling these tasks with a narrower scope.</p> <p>“I’ve said to the mayor every year that we would really benefit from a chief diversity officer in City Hall,” Stringer told Gotham Gazette just after the rally. “For me, talk is cheap. We’re either going to be in the business of equality and economic justice or we’re not.”</p> <p>The CDO in Stringer’s office, currently Wendy Garcia, is tasked with overseeing all of its procurement dollars, about $14 million spent annually.</p> <p>“Every time I see a law or a regulation or some rule that inhibits minorities or women to have access, my job is to fix it and change it,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette in an interview. According to Stringer’s charter revision proposals, Garcia has helped the Office of the Comptroller almost double its spending with MWBEs to over 24% of its procurement spending in fiscal year 2017.</p> <p>“I think people do not fully appreciate the role of the chief diversity officer,” Stringer said. “Imagine a chief diversity officer in City Hall in this building right now working every day across all agencies to look at ways to up-spend to bring more people into the procurement process. This is a necessary part of government. It’s the future of the city. There’s nothing more important than creating wealth with opportunity.”</p> <p>Each year, Stringer puts out an MWBE report card for city agencies and the mayor’s office, and he includes his office as well. Six of the 32 agencies graded by the Comptroller’s Office already have CDOs: Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Fire Department, and Law Department. (None of the agencies with chief diversity officers increased their share of procurement going to MWBEs by over 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 except the Department of Finance which spent only $25 million on procurement in total, about 21% of its procurement dollars.)</p> <p>The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has one of the biggest procurement budgets in city government, totaling nearly $1.7 billion, about as large as the other agencies with CDOs combined. DDC hired Chief Diversity and Industry Relations Officer Magalie D. Austin in 2014. According to budget testimony delivered last month by DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo, "Mayor de Blasio singled out DDC as the top performing agency in the City’s M/WBE program. We’ve awarded more than $1 billion to M/WBE firms since 2015. Between FY15 to FY18, our overall M/WBE utilization rate has increased from just under ten percent to 23 percent."</p> <p>Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York State also have chief diversity officers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011, responded to a <a href="https://cdn.esd.ny.gov/mwbe/Data/NERA_NYS_Disparity_Study_Final_NEW.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2010 disparity study</a> by focusing on the state’s procurement dollars going to MWBEs. In 2014, he upgraded his goal for MWBE utilization from 20% to 30% of the value of state contracts. In fiscal year 2017, the percentage of MWBE utilization in New York State was 28.6%, according to Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women's Business Development <a href="https://esd.ny.gov/esd-media-center/reports/division-minority-and-womens-business-development-annual-report-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Annual Report 2018</a>.</p> <p>The state chief diversity officer originally solely oversaw the MWBE procurement process but has recently added workforce diversity and inclusion duties as well. Currently, the role of chief diversity officer is filled by Lourdes Zapata.</p> <p><strong>Other Major Cities Have CDOs</strong><br />Outside of New York City, the position of chief diversity officer can be found in other major city governments around the country, almost all only created in the past five years.</p> <p>There are currently chief diversity officers in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, and Buffalo. The duties (and titles) of these CDOs vary – most of the positions are human resources in nature, such as researching workplace diversity, recruiting diverse applicants for city jobs, and raising awareness for diverse hiring practices.</p> <p>If the proposal passed, New York would be the first major city with a chief diversity officer whose main job duty would be to oversee procurement for MWBEs.</p> <p>In Philadelphia, the role of <a href="https://www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-the-chief-diversity-and-inclusion-officer/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer</a> is filled by Nolan Atkinson Jr. When offered the job, “I had one qualification. I wanted the title to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “I believe inclusion is vital in having a successful tenure in this position.”</p> <p>Atkinson’s office provides diversity training to city employees, publishes quarterly reports, and oversees the Office of Economic Opportunity, which manages procurement to WMBEs.</p> <p>Philadelphia city government awarded over $440 million out of an estimated $1.4 billion contracting budget (30.5%) to M/W/DSBE’s (Philadelphia includes business owners with a disability) in fiscal year 2018, a $128 million increase over fiscal year 2017, according to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report. Philadelphia has set an “aspirational” goal of 35% of contracting dollars to go to diverse businesses. In terms of city employee diversity, the Philadelphia city workforce skews heavily male, at 65% of the workforce, and 58% of “new hires.”</p> <p>Boston’s CDO Danielson Tavares has had more success reflecting the city’s population in the city’s workforce but does not oversee procurement.</p> <p>Danielson Tavares, <a href="https://www.boston.gov/departments/mayors-office/danielson-tavares" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity Officer</a> of the City of Boston, told Gotham Gazette, “my initial mandate was as to try to diversify the [city government] workforce to be as reflective of the city population as possible with special attention to underrepresented populations.”</p> <p>According to the first ever <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-08-2016/2015.04.14_final_draft-updated_city_of_boston_workforce_profile_report_tcm3-50873.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">workforce report</a> looking at diversity in Boston in 2015, just 42% of city workers were non-white while 54% of the city was non-white. The <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-12-2017/quarterly_department_diversity_report_december_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December 2018 report</a> showed that out of the nearly 1,500 new city hires in the year before the report, 55% were non-white.</p> <p>Something both Atkinson and Tavares emphasized: for a CDO position to work, they need the support of the mayor of the city.</p> <p>It doesn’t seem like the proposal has it in New York.</p> <p><strong>The New York City Push, MWBE Spending, &amp; the Charter Revision Commission</strong><br /> In a statement to Gotham Gazette, de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras highlighted the work of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises but was noncommittal regarding the CDO proposal that’s in front of the charter revision commission.</p> <p>A chief diversity officer in New York would undoubtedly cause changes in the procurement spending infrastructure with the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE’s currently overseeing procurement to M/WBE’s. When asked at a March 21 press conference -- one week after the Stringer-led rally and testimony at the charter revision commission -- about the possibility of a CDO in New York City, de Blasio said, “I think the current approach is a very aggressive, effective way. We’ll always look at ways we can improve it, but I think this model is the way to get it done.”</p> <p>“If you’re chief diversity officer and you don’t report to the head, you’re set up to fail,” said Wendy Garcia. “If you’re reporting directly to the head, you’re part of the system.”</p> <p>“As long as it doesn’t get overly politicized, we see the power and leverage of a position like this necessarily maintained,” said Julie Nelson, Co-Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality (GARE).</p> <p>An issue the 2019 Charter Revision Commission brought up in <a href="http://www.charter2019.nyc/hearings/13" target="_blank" rel="noopener">its hearing</a> was the already existing framework in the city overseeing M/WBE investment. Commissioner James Caras asked the panelist of experts who testified on the issue if a CDO was really necessary as the duties of the position, diversity hiring and overseeing the M/WBE program, are already handled by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Mayor's Office of M/WBEs, respectively.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala argued that the specifics of how a CDO would integrate with the current MWBE officers in city agencies are unknown and would only add to a complicated charter and city bureaucratic structure.</p> <p>“We’re always too quick to come up with a catchy title and then try to ram it into the charter and then we’re left very disappointed when nothing happens.”</p> <p>A possible downside to the idea of chief diversity officers, said Nelson, is “when individual positions are allocated with the responsibility, that can take the pressure or the weight off other people” when promoting diversity.</p> <p>Asked about this reservation, Garcia told Gotham Gazette it is the reason the CDO must be in every agency and there must be one CDO who reports directly to the mayor.</p> <p>If skipped over by the charter revision commission, the creation of a citywide chief diversity officer could be legislated by the New York City Council, however the expert panelists at the revision commission’s hearing were dubious of this path as the charter is less malleable to political changes and pressures.</p> <p>It’s notable that of the ways the push for a CDO could succeed, like through legislative action or executive order, changing the city’s Charter is the only way that does not directly include the mayor, though he does have four appointees to the 15-member commission. (The City Council could pass a bill then override a mayoral veto. There is no current bill in the Council to create a CDO.)</p> <p>When the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard testimony on the proposal of creating a CDO at the March 14 hearing, commissioners appeared interested in the topic. After including the CDO concept in its list of issues to explore further, the commission heard from Stringer and others, among a series of expert hearings it held on a variety of topics, and will now put forward its narrowed focus areas on April 22. That list will determine which issues the commission plans to craft actual ballot proposals around for suggested changes to city government for voters to approve or disapprove in November.</p> <p>The MWBE program, created by city law in 2005, attempts to increase the amount of city procurement dollars that go to minority- and women-owned businesses. In fiscal year 2018, the city awarded $19.3 billion in contracts, of which $1 billion, or about 5.5%, went to MWBEs, according to Comptroller Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/making-the-grade/reports/making-the-grade-2018/#_edn2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Making the Grade 2018</a> report. In 2007, it was just 1.6%.</p> <p>In the same 2018 report, Stringer gave the city as a whole a D+. Of the 32 mayoral agencies graded, only nine received a B or higher, including the Office of the Comptroller. On spending specifically with African-American-owned businesses, five mayoral agencies received a B or higher. &nbsp;</p> <p>To improve, Mayor de Blasio set the goal of awarding $16 billion to MWBEs by 2025 in his OneNYC plan, a goal which has since been increased to $20 billion by 2025.</p> <p>Amid earlier criticism from Stringer, de Blasio created the Office of MWBEs in September of 2016, which is currently responsible for overseeing the MWBE program. The office, currently led by Jonnel Doris, is part of the mayor’s office and is overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, currently Phil Thompson. The office was created and enhanced under Thompson’s predecessor, Richard Buery.</p> <p>Talk of a chief diversity officer actually came up in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. At a very early forum in the race -- held in June 2012 when Stringer was exploring a mayoral bid before he shifted to the comptroller’s race -- participating candidates including de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration approach to diverse hiring and MWBE contracting. According to news reports the candidates all supported the idea of a CDO at City Hall. “De Blasio also endorsed the idea, but said he would go further, making the person who holds that post a deputy mayor,” according to <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-newyork-campaign-mayor/ny-city-democrats-slam-bloomberg-on-diversity-record-idUSBRE85B1M620120612" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Reuters article</a> from the time. That’s what de Blasio has done, in a way.</p> <p>But the city has failed to hit MWBE procurement benchmarks that were codified by Local Law 1 in 2013. For example, 18% of the value of city construction contracts awarded are supposed to go to women-owned businesses. In 2018, the city awarded just 4.1%, according to the comptroller’s Making the Grade 2018 report.</p> <p>On the matter of diversity in the mayor's office and city government more broadly, little has changed since de Blasio took office, according to the most recent statistics available from the city. While de Blasio has elevated more women and people of color to top city leadership positions, the larger workforce is about what it was in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year of 2013.</p> <p><a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045217" target="_blank" rel="noopener">According to the U.S. Census Bureau</a>, as of July 2017, New York City as a whole was 52.3% female and 46.7% male, and 32% white, 29% Hispanic, 24% black, 14% Asian, and 1% other races.</p> <p>According to the city's Department of Citywide Administration Services: <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_12_30_2013.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2013</a> the mayor's office was: 60% female and 40% male, and 54% white, 17% black, 15% Hispanic, and 14% Asian; <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2017</a> the mayor's office was: 58% female and 42% male, and 46% white, 20% black, 15% Hispanic, 16% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>In 2013 the city government workforce was 58% female and 42% male, and 40% white, 31% black, 19% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 2% some other race. In 2017 the city government workforce was 59% female and 41% male, and 38% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 9% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>Nelson, of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality, told Gotham Gazette the vast resources and dollars of New York City could have a real benefit on policies that would help people of color, if implemented well.</p> <p>“What we don’t want to have happen is for these positions just to be spokespeople for the status quo,” she said.</p> <p>

***
by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect accurate procurement spending with MWBEs by DDC. The original published version of the article inaccruately described DDC as making minimal progress in MWBE contracting in recent years whereas it has increased such spending significantly.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-office-city-hall-riders.jpg" alt="mayor office city hall riders" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many days throughout the year there are people gathered on the steps of City Hall calling on city government to make policy. On March 14, a rally of women and people of color who own businesses, organized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, focused on a change that could significantly alter the direction of city government and opportunities for those business owners and others in similar positions.</p> <p>Those in attendance were backing Stringer’s push to have the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put a proposal on the November ballot to require a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s cabinet and one at each city agency.</p> <p>Fittingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio, AirPods in his ears, walked into City Hall at the time of the rally, seemingly paying it little mind. Over the last several years, Stringer has assailed the de Blasio administration’s approach to contracting with MWBEs -- minority- and women-owned business enterprises -- and called on the mayor to add a chief diversity officer (CDO) to his administration. De Blasio has adjusted the city’s MWBE contracting goals multiple times and created an MWBE office in 2016, but he has not created the CDO position. He has also repeatedly dismissed Stringer’s criticisms.</p> <p>A second-term Democrat who created a CDO at the comptroller’s office upon taking the citywide position in 2014, Stringer has now pushed the issue to the fore as the 2019 charter commission considers what changes to the city’s central governing document and structure it will propose to voters this fall -- it is listed first among Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/A-New-Charter-to-Confront-New-Challenges.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">65 charter revision proposals</a>.</p> <p>The City Hall rally, which included Stringer, MWBE owners, faith leaders, Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, came just hours before Stringer and others testified before the commission on the subject of adding the CDO positions to the charter.</p> <p>Among other responsibilities, the CDO position would oversee city procurement and contracting with MWBEs, as well as strategies to improve those efforts. The city spends billions of procurement dollars each year to buy things such as office supplies or hire contractors on city construction projects. The CDO would also focus on issues of equity and diversity in city government, with each CDO at individual city agencies handling these tasks with a narrower scope.</p> <p>“I’ve said to the mayor every year that we would really benefit from a chief diversity officer in City Hall,” Stringer told Gotham Gazette just after the rally. “For me, talk is cheap. We’re either going to be in the business of equality and economic justice or we’re not.”</p> <p>The CDO in Stringer’s office, currently Wendy Garcia, is tasked with overseeing all of its procurement dollars, about $14 million spent annually.</p> <p>“Every time I see a law or a regulation or some rule that inhibits minorities or women to have access, my job is to fix it and change it,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette in an interview. According to Stringer’s charter revision proposals, Garcia has helped the Office of the Comptroller almost double its spending with MWBEs to over 24% of its procurement spending in fiscal year 2017.</p> <p>“I think people do not fully appreciate the role of the chief diversity officer,” Stringer said. “Imagine a chief diversity officer in City Hall in this building right now working every day across all agencies to look at ways to up-spend to bring more people into the procurement process. This is a necessary part of government. It’s the future of the city. There’s nothing more important than creating wealth with opportunity.”</p> <p>Each year, Stringer puts out an MWBE report card for city agencies and the mayor’s office, and he includes his office as well. Six of the 32 agencies graded by the Comptroller’s Office already have CDOs: Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Fire Department, and Law Department. (None of the agencies with chief diversity officers increased their share of procurement going to MWBEs by over 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 except the Department of Finance which spent only $25 million on procurement in total, about 21% of its procurement dollars.)</p> <p>The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has one of the biggest procurement budgets in city government, totaling nearly $1.7 billion, about as large as the other agencies with CDOs combined. DDC hired Chief Diversity and Industry Relations Officer Magalie D. Austin in 2014. According to budget testimony delivered last month by DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo, "Mayor de Blasio singled out DDC as the top performing agency in the City’s M/WBE program. We’ve awarded more than $1 billion to M/WBE firms since 2015. Between FY15 to FY18, our overall M/WBE utilization rate has increased from just under ten percent to 23 percent."</p> <p>Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York State also have chief diversity officers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011, responded to a <a href="https://cdn.esd.ny.gov/mwbe/Data/NERA_NYS_Disparity_Study_Final_NEW.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2010 disparity study</a> by focusing on the state’s procurement dollars going to MWBEs. In 2014, he upgraded his goal for MWBE utilization from 20% to 30% of the value of state contracts. In fiscal year 2017, the percentage of MWBE utilization in New York State was 28.6%, according to Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women's Business Development <a href="https://esd.ny.gov/esd-media-center/reports/division-minority-and-womens-business-development-annual-report-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Annual Report 2018</a>.</p> <p>The state chief diversity officer originally solely oversaw the MWBE procurement process but has recently added workforce diversity and inclusion duties as well. Currently, the role of chief diversity officer is filled by Lourdes Zapata.</p> <p><strong>Other Major Cities Have CDOs</strong><br />Outside of New York City, the position of chief diversity officer can be found in other major city governments around the country, almost all only created in the past five years.</p> <p>There are currently chief diversity officers in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, and Buffalo. The duties (and titles) of these CDOs vary – most of the positions are human resources in nature, such as researching workplace diversity, recruiting diverse applicants for city jobs, and raising awareness for diverse hiring practices.</p> <p>If the proposal passed, New York would be the first major city with a chief diversity officer whose main job duty would be to oversee procurement for MWBEs.</p> <p>In Philadelphia, the role of <a href="https://www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-the-chief-diversity-and-inclusion-officer/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer</a> is filled by Nolan Atkinson Jr. When offered the job, “I had one qualification. I wanted the title to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “I believe inclusion is vital in having a successful tenure in this position.”</p> <p>Atkinson’s office provides diversity training to city employees, publishes quarterly reports, and oversees the Office of Economic Opportunity, which manages procurement to WMBEs.</p> <p>Philadelphia city government awarded over $440 million out of an estimated $1.4 billion contracting budget (30.5%) to M/W/DSBE’s (Philadelphia includes business owners with a disability) in fiscal year 2018, a $128 million increase over fiscal year 2017, according to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report. Philadelphia has set an “aspirational” goal of 35% of contracting dollars to go to diverse businesses. In terms of city employee diversity, the Philadelphia city workforce skews heavily male, at 65% of the workforce, and 58% of “new hires.”</p> <p>Boston’s CDO Danielson Tavares has had more success reflecting the city’s population in the city’s workforce but does not oversee procurement.</p> <p>Danielson Tavares, <a href="https://www.boston.gov/departments/mayors-office/danielson-tavares" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity Officer</a> of the City of Boston, told Gotham Gazette, “my initial mandate was as to try to diversify the [city government] workforce to be as reflective of the city population as possible with special attention to underrepresented populations.”</p> <p>According to the first ever <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-08-2016/2015.04.14_final_draft-updated_city_of_boston_workforce_profile_report_tcm3-50873.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">workforce report</a> looking at diversity in Boston in 2015, just 42% of city workers were non-white while 54% of the city was non-white. The <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-12-2017/quarterly_department_diversity_report_december_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December 2018 report</a> showed that out of the nearly 1,500 new city hires in the year before the report, 55% were non-white.</p> <p>Something both Atkinson and Tavares emphasized: for a CDO position to work, they need the support of the mayor of the city.</p> <p>It doesn’t seem like the proposal has it in New York.</p> <p><strong>The New York City Push, MWBE Spending, &amp; the Charter Revision Commission</strong><br /> In a statement to Gotham Gazette, de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras highlighted the work of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises but was noncommittal regarding the CDO proposal that’s in front of the charter revision commission.</p> <p>A chief diversity officer in New York would undoubtedly cause changes in the procurement spending infrastructure with the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE’s currently overseeing procurement to M/WBE’s. When asked at a March 21 press conference -- one week after the Stringer-led rally and testimony at the charter revision commission -- about the possibility of a CDO in New York City, de Blasio said, “I think the current approach is a very aggressive, effective way. We’ll always look at ways we can improve it, but I think this model is the way to get it done.”</p> <p>“If you’re chief diversity officer and you don’t report to the head, you’re set up to fail,” said Wendy Garcia. “If you’re reporting directly to the head, you’re part of the system.”</p> <p>“As long as it doesn’t get overly politicized, we see the power and leverage of a position like this necessarily maintained,” said Julie Nelson, Co-Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality (GARE).</p> <p>An issue the 2019 Charter Revision Commission brought up in <a href="http://www.charter2019.nyc/hearings/13" target="_blank" rel="noopener">its hearing</a> was the already existing framework in the city overseeing M/WBE investment. Commissioner James Caras asked the panelist of experts who testified on the issue if a CDO was really necessary as the duties of the position, diversity hiring and overseeing the M/WBE program, are already handled by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Mayor's Office of M/WBEs, respectively.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala argued that the specifics of how a CDO would integrate with the current MWBE officers in city agencies are unknown and would only add to a complicated charter and city bureaucratic structure.</p> <p>“We’re always too quick to come up with a catchy title and then try to ram it into the charter and then we’re left very disappointed when nothing happens.”</p> <p>A possible downside to the idea of chief diversity officers, said Nelson, is “when individual positions are allocated with the responsibility, that can take the pressure or the weight off other people” when promoting diversity.</p> <p>Asked about this reservation, Garcia told Gotham Gazette it is the reason the CDO must be in every agency and there must be one CDO who reports directly to the mayor.</p> <p>If skipped over by the charter revision commission, the creation of a citywide chief diversity officer could be legislated by the New York City Council, however the expert panelists at the revision commission’s hearing were dubious of this path as the charter is less malleable to political changes and pressures.</p> <p>It’s notable that of the ways the push for a CDO could succeed, like through legislative action or executive order, changing the city’s Charter is the only way that does not directly include the mayor, though he does have four appointees to the 15-member commission. (The City Council could pass a bill then override a mayoral veto. There is no current bill in the Council to create a CDO.)</p> <p>When the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard testimony on the proposal of creating a CDO at the March 14 hearing, commissioners appeared interested in the topic. After including the CDO concept in its list of issues to explore further, the commission heard from Stringer and others, among a series of expert hearings it held on a variety of topics, and will now put forward its narrowed focus areas on April 22. That list will determine which issues the commission plans to craft actual ballot proposals around for suggested changes to city government for voters to approve or disapprove in November.</p> <p>The MWBE program, created by city law in 2005, attempts to increase the amount of city procurement dollars that go to minority- and women-owned businesses. In fiscal year 2018, the city awarded $19.3 billion in contracts, of which $1 billion, or about 5.5%, went to MWBEs, according to Comptroller Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/making-the-grade/reports/making-the-grade-2018/#_edn2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Making the Grade 2018</a> report. In 2007, it was just 1.6%.</p> <p>In the same 2018 report, Stringer gave the city as a whole a D+. Of the 32 mayoral agencies graded, only nine received a B or higher, including the Office of the Comptroller. On spending specifically with African-American-owned businesses, five mayoral agencies received a B or higher. &nbsp;</p> <p>To improve, Mayor de Blasio set the goal of awarding $16 billion to MWBEs by 2025 in his OneNYC plan, a goal which has since been increased to $20 billion by 2025.</p> <p>Amid earlier criticism from Stringer, de Blasio created the Office of MWBEs in September of 2016, which is currently responsible for overseeing the MWBE program. The office, currently led by Jonnel Doris, is part of the mayor’s office and is overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, currently Phil Thompson. The office was created and enhanced under Thompson’s predecessor, Richard Buery.</p> <p>Talk of a chief diversity officer actually came up in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. At a very early forum in the race -- held in June 2012 when Stringer was exploring a mayoral bid before he shifted to the comptroller’s race -- participating candidates including de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration approach to diverse hiring and MWBE contracting. According to news reports the candidates all supported the idea of a CDO at City Hall. “De Blasio also endorsed the idea, but said he would go further, making the person who holds that post a deputy mayor,” according to <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-newyork-campaign-mayor/ny-city-democrats-slam-bloomberg-on-diversity-record-idUSBRE85B1M620120612" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Reuters article</a> from the time. That’s what de Blasio has done, in a way.</p> <p>But the city has failed to hit MWBE procurement benchmarks that were codified by Local Law 1 in 2013. For example, 18% of the value of city construction contracts awarded are supposed to go to women-owned businesses. In 2018, the city awarded just 4.1%, according to the comptroller’s Making the Grade 2018 report.</p> <p>On the matter of diversity in the mayor's office and city government more broadly, little has changed since de Blasio took office, according to the most recent statistics available from the city. While de Blasio has elevated more women and people of color to top city leadership positions, the larger workforce is about what it was in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year of 2013.</p> <p><a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045217" target="_blank" rel="noopener">According to the U.S. Census Bureau</a>, as of July 2017, New York City as a whole was 52.3% female and 46.7% male, and 32% white, 29% Hispanic, 24% black, 14% Asian, and 1% other races.</p> <p>According to the city's Department of Citywide Administration Services: <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_12_30_2013.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2013</a> the mayor's office was: 60% female and 40% male, and 54% white, 17% black, 15% Hispanic, and 14% Asian; <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2017</a> the mayor's office was: 58% female and 42% male, and 46% white, 20% black, 15% Hispanic, 16% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>In 2013 the city government workforce was 58% female and 42% male, and 40% white, 31% black, 19% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 2% some other race. In 2017 the city government workforce was 59% female and 41% male, and 38% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 9% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>Nelson, of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality, told Gotham Gazette the vast resources and dollars of New York City could have a real benefit on policies that would help people of color, if implemented well.</p> <p>“What we don’t want to have happen is for these positions just to be spokespeople for the status quo,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect accurate procurement spending with MWBEs by DDC. The original published version of the article inaccruately described DDC as making minimal progress in MWBE contracting in recent years whereas it has increased such spending significantly.</p>
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on City Budgeting and Contracting 2019-03-12T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-12T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting Super User <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mbdb-execb.jpg" alt="mbdb execb" width="600" /></p> <p>&nbsp;(photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is looking at ways to improve the city’s central governing document, heard suggestions on Monday from community-based organizations, fiscal watchdogs, and former and current city officials about potential changes to the city’s byzantine budgeting process.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours, experts weighed in on the city’s flawed contract procurement system, the severe lack of transparency in spending on capital projects, the possibility of creating a rainy day fund for the city, and measures to generally improve accountability in city spending. There was general agreement that city procurement needs to be overhauled to make it more efficient and transparent, but broader opposition to changes in the budgeting process and the administration’s ability to set revenues and expenditures.</p> <p>The city’s budget and budgeting processes are one of four areas of focus for the commission, which will sift through the hours of testimony it has heard, and has yet to hear, before releasing a draft of ballot proposals sometime next month. The proposals will go through another round of public input before the final questions are approved in June. The proposals will then be presented to voters on the November election ballot. The commission has already held hearings on elections reform, exploring issues such as ranked-choice voting, redistricting and campaign finance improvements, and another on police accountability measures. The next hearing is scheduled on Thursday, where the commission will look at issues involving finance and governance including the city’s pension system, a Chief Diversity Officer proposal, and issues around corruption and conflicts of interest.</p> <p><strong>City Contracting</strong><br />At Monday’s hearing, there was broad consensus from those within and outside government about how the city’s contracting process works, or rather, doesn’t. Advocates representing human-service nonprofits, which receive most of their funding from the city, bemoaned the now well-known sorry state of the system, with contracts delayed for months, threatening their financial security and their ability to provide uninterrupted services. Unlike private contractors, they cannot cancel the services they provide, advocates said, since they fill the gaps where the city is not meeting the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers. “We’ve entered an era for nonprofits that’s very dangerous,” said Janelle Faris, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services.</p> <p>Michelle Jackson, deputy executive director of the Human Services Council, which represents more than 100 nonprofits, noted that the city spends $6.5 billion on human services each year, which also allows nonprofits to leverage state and federal funding and philanthropic dollars. “We’re an economic engine,” she said. “The sector nationally is larger than the airline industry yet we do not treat nonprofits the same way we treat airline executives.”</p> <p>Jackson recommended several measures to improve procurement including established contracting timeframes, interest or other penalties on late payments by the city, and more detailed annual reporting in the Mayor’s Management Report, which tracks performance indicators for city services. Marla Simpson, a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), however, said financial penalties may not be effective and the best solution may be to name-and-shame agencies for their failures. “Transparency and sunlight is a much more important cure,” she said.</p> <p>Officials from the comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services concurred that city contracting is inefficient though they outlined steps they have already taken to improve it and promised that improvements are slowly coming to fruition. “I agree that New York City’s procurement must be overhauled,” said Daniel Symon, acting director of MOCS, in his opening statement. “Reliance on paper, a patchwork of siloed agency systems and a sometimes necessarily risk-averse culture combine to limit achievable results.”</p> <p>Lisa Flores, deputy comptroller for contracts, said the procurement system is “notoriously slow, bureaucratic and opaque,” and leads to delays that increase project costs for city vendors, which end up being passed on to taxpayers. She noted, for instance, that in fiscal year 2018, 80 percent of all new and renewal contracts submitted to the comptroller’s office for registration came in after the start date (40 percent of those contracts were late by six months or more) and for human services contracts, the number increased to 89 percent. She called for more transparency and accountability, particularly by setting specific timelines for agencies to submit contracts. Currently, the city charter only requires the comptroller’s office to register contracts within a timeframe.</p> <p>The commissioners recognized that procurement reform is an age-old issue. “I was on the City Council 20 years ago and we were having the same discussions,” said Commissioner Stephen Fiala, though he expressed doubts about imposing penalties on agencies for late submission of contracts. Other commissioners pressed the expert panel on oversight at agencies and the institutional issues with procurement.</p> <p>Flores suggested more outward transparency for the process and establishing metrics to track whether agencies are working in a timely manner. Symon, though, was wary of creating timelines for agencies that could potentially allow them to delay their work or lead to clashes with vendors. “What I don’t want to do is start with an arbitrary time-frame when we don’t know how fast it can be,” he said. Both agreed that the contracting process needs to be more structured and predictable, with vendors being able to track the progress of their contracts in real time. A time-frame, Flores said, would be an important first step. Advocates agreed.</p> <p><strong>City Budgeting</strong><br />There was similarly consensus on the subsequent panels where experts testified on the city’s expense, revenue, and capital budget procedures. But rather than agreeing on ways to improve the budget, they mostly were on the same page in warning the commissioners to be careful about interfering in what is already a strong fiscal management system.</p> <p>“Changing our fiscal discipline practices will cause unintended and perhaps adverse consequences,” said Chuck Brisky, deputy director for expense and capital coordination for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. He opposed any shift in responsibility for the city’s revenue forecast, which is set by the mayor. Brisky said the mayor is accountable to New Yorkers for providing services and so must be responsible for setting the revenue projections that funds those services.</p> <p>“If the budget isn’t balanced by even one-tenth of one percent at our current revenue and spending level, the city could lose control of its finances to the Financial Control Board under the Emergency Financial Act,” he said. The state, he noted, doesn’t have the same stringent budget and accounting standards as the city. Brisky also opposed any changes to the mayor’s power to impound revenues, which allows for short-term fixes during times of crisis such as natural disasters, financial recessions or terror attacks.</p> <p>Preston Niblack, deputy comptroller for budget, echoed that sentiment, as did Mark Page, a former director of OMB, and Anthony Shorris, previously the first deputy mayor under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both Page and Shorris repeatedly cautioned the commission to tread lightly around imposing new mandates on the administration’s budgeting powers.</p> <p>Niblack did raise several measures that could make the budget more transparent. It’s “very hard to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money,” he said, noting that the budget process is not linked to the delivery of services. The MMR, he said, is ineffective and does not report measures attached to spending.</p> <p>When Commissioner James Caras posed a question about the mayor’s ability to impound revenue, Niblack did agree that there could be limits on it to prevent misuse for political reasons. “Right now it’s open ended and should probably be restricted,” he said.</p> <p>The city’s capital spending process has been particularly fraught, leading to hundreds of millions in cost overruns and delayed projects. At the hearing, Jon Kaufman, chief operating officer at the Department of City Planning, outlined several reforms DCP has implemented and said that his department works with agencies to appropriately plan their future capital needs. But, he said, “I don’t think additional charter mandates are going to lead to materially increased collaboration.”</p> <p>Independent fiscal watchdogs also bolstered the administration’s argument. Carol Kellermann, former president of the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), gave the commission two pieces of advice: “First, do no harm...Second, don’t use the charter to do things that can be done by local law.”</p> <p>This question, what can and should be done by local law as opposed to amending the city charter, has been a theme raised throughout charter revision processes, including the one formed last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which saw three charter amendments passed by voters, all of which, some argued, could have simply been passed as local law.</p> <p>Kellermann and her successor at CBC, Andrew Rein, did recommend that the charter consider a proposal to create a rainy day fund for the city. Though Kellerman noted that it would require authorization from the state as well, she said the charter commission could create the criteria for it and present it to voters for their approval, strengthening the city’s case in front of the state. She also pushed for greater transparency in the capital budget, including by expanding the annual statement of needs that agencies provide to all city-controlled public authority assets.</p> <p>On a proposal to create independent budgeting for certain offices -- such as the public advocate, comptroller, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board -- Kellerman warned that it would be “dangerous” and could disrupt the city’s budget process by giving other elected officials besides the mayor creeping authority over the budget.</p> <p>“The City Charter calls for a lot more clarity on programmatic spending and performance in the city’s operating budget than we actually see in practice,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city agency. He noted that the budget includes units of appropriation that are overly broad and that obscure spending, and that the charter should be strengthened to require units to be linked to individual programs. Kellermann also said as much, though she laid some blame at the City Council’s feet. “The Council really needs to insist more on doing this...but the definition in the charter is already clear that they need to be more specific than they are,” she said.</p> <p>Sweeting recommended that the charter commission start looking at ways to improve the Retiree Health Benefits Trust, which the city uses as a form of reserves, as a means of testing the appropriate way to create a dedicated rainy day fund. That could include specific “rules for when deposits have to be made and when withdrawals could be made.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mbdb-execb.jpg" alt="mbdb execb" width="600" /></p> <p>&nbsp;(photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is looking at ways to improve the city’s central governing document, heard suggestions on Monday from community-based organizations, fiscal watchdogs, and former and current city officials about potential changes to the city’s byzantine budgeting process.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours, experts weighed in on the city’s flawed contract procurement system, the severe lack of transparency in spending on capital projects, the possibility of creating a rainy day fund for the city, and measures to generally improve accountability in city spending. There was general agreement that city procurement needs to be overhauled to make it more efficient and transparent, but broader opposition to changes in the budgeting process and the administration’s ability to set revenues and expenditures.</p> <p>The city’s budget and budgeting processes are one of four areas of focus for the commission, which will sift through the hours of testimony it has heard, and has yet to hear, before releasing a draft of ballot proposals sometime next month. The proposals will go through another round of public input before the final questions are approved in June. The proposals will then be presented to voters on the November election ballot. The commission has already held hearings on elections reform, exploring issues such as ranked-choice voting, redistricting and campaign finance improvements, and another on police accountability measures. The next hearing is scheduled on Thursday, where the commission will look at issues involving finance and governance including the city’s pension system, a Chief Diversity Officer proposal, and issues around corruption and conflicts of interest.</p> <p><strong>City Contracting</strong><br />At Monday’s hearing, there was broad consensus from those within and outside government about how the city’s contracting process works, or rather, doesn’t. Advocates representing human-service nonprofits, which receive most of their funding from the city, bemoaned the now well-known sorry state of the system, with contracts delayed for months, threatening their financial security and their ability to provide uninterrupted services. Unlike private contractors, they cannot cancel the services they provide, advocates said, since they fill the gaps where the city is not meeting the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers. “We’ve entered an era for nonprofits that’s very dangerous,” said Janelle Faris, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services.</p> <p>Michelle Jackson, deputy executive director of the Human Services Council, which represents more than 100 nonprofits, noted that the city spends $6.5 billion on human services each year, which also allows nonprofits to leverage state and federal funding and philanthropic dollars. “We’re an economic engine,” she said. “The sector nationally is larger than the airline industry yet we do not treat nonprofits the same way we treat airline executives.”</p> <p>Jackson recommended several measures to improve procurement including established contracting timeframes, interest or other penalties on late payments by the city, and more detailed annual reporting in the Mayor’s Management Report, which tracks performance indicators for city services. Marla Simpson, a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), however, said financial penalties may not be effective and the best solution may be to name-and-shame agencies for their failures. “Transparency and sunlight is a much more important cure,” she said.</p> <p>Officials from the comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services concurred that city contracting is inefficient though they outlined steps they have already taken to improve it and promised that improvements are slowly coming to fruition. “I agree that New York City’s procurement must be overhauled,” said Daniel Symon, acting director of MOCS, in his opening statement. “Reliance on paper, a patchwork of siloed agency systems and a sometimes necessarily risk-averse culture combine to limit achievable results.”</p> <p>Lisa Flores, deputy comptroller for contracts, said the procurement system is “notoriously slow, bureaucratic and opaque,” and leads to delays that increase project costs for city vendors, which end up being passed on to taxpayers. She noted, for instance, that in fiscal year 2018, 80 percent of all new and renewal contracts submitted to the comptroller’s office for registration came in after the start date (40 percent of those contracts were late by six months or more) and for human services contracts, the number increased to 89 percent. She called for more transparency and accountability, particularly by setting specific timelines for agencies to submit contracts. Currently, the city charter only requires the comptroller’s office to register contracts within a timeframe.</p> <p>The commissioners recognized that procurement reform is an age-old issue. “I was on the City Council 20 years ago and we were having the same discussions,” said Commissioner Stephen Fiala, though he expressed doubts about imposing penalties on agencies for late submission of contracts. Other commissioners pressed the expert panel on oversight at agencies and the institutional issues with procurement.</p> <p>Flores suggested more outward transparency for the process and establishing metrics to track whether agencies are working in a timely manner. Symon, though, was wary of creating timelines for agencies that could potentially allow them to delay their work or lead to clashes with vendors. “What I don’t want to do is start with an arbitrary time-frame when we don’t know how fast it can be,” he said. Both agreed that the contracting process needs to be more structured and predictable, with vendors being able to track the progress of their contracts in real time. A time-frame, Flores said, would be an important first step. Advocates agreed.</p> <p><strong>City Budgeting</strong><br />There was similarly consensus on the subsequent panels where experts testified on the city’s expense, revenue, and capital budget procedures. But rather than agreeing on ways to improve the budget, they mostly were on the same page in warning the commissioners to be careful about interfering in what is already a strong fiscal management system.</p> <p>“Changing our fiscal discipline practices will cause unintended and perhaps adverse consequences,” said Chuck Brisky, deputy director for expense and capital coordination for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. He opposed any shift in responsibility for the city’s revenue forecast, which is set by the mayor. Brisky said the mayor is accountable to New Yorkers for providing services and so must be responsible for setting the revenue projections that funds those services.</p> <p>“If the budget isn’t balanced by even one-tenth of one percent at our current revenue and spending level, the city could lose control of its finances to the Financial Control Board under the Emergency Financial Act,” he said. The state, he noted, doesn’t have the same stringent budget and accounting standards as the city. Brisky also opposed any changes to the mayor’s power to impound revenues, which allows for short-term fixes during times of crisis such as natural disasters, financial recessions or terror attacks.</p> <p>Preston Niblack, deputy comptroller for budget, echoed that sentiment, as did Mark Page, a former director of OMB, and Anthony Shorris, previously the first deputy mayor under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both Page and Shorris repeatedly cautioned the commission to tread lightly around imposing new mandates on the administration’s budgeting powers.</p> <p>Niblack did raise several measures that could make the budget more transparent. It’s “very hard to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money,” he said, noting that the budget process is not linked to the delivery of services. The MMR, he said, is ineffective and does not report measures attached to spending.</p> <p>When Commissioner James Caras posed a question about the mayor’s ability to impound revenue, Niblack did agree that there could be limits on it to prevent misuse for political reasons. “Right now it’s open ended and should probably be restricted,” he said.</p> <p>The city’s capital spending process has been particularly fraught, leading to hundreds of millions in cost overruns and delayed projects. At the hearing, Jon Kaufman, chief operating officer at the Department of City Planning, outlined several reforms DCP has implemented and said that his department works with agencies to appropriately plan their future capital needs. But, he said, “I don’t think additional charter mandates are going to lead to materially increased collaboration.”</p> <p>Independent fiscal watchdogs also bolstered the administration’s argument. Carol Kellermann, former president of the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), gave the commission two pieces of advice: “First, do no harm...Second, don’t use the charter to do things that can be done by local law.”</p> <p>This question, what can and should be done by local law as opposed to amending the city charter, has been a theme raised throughout charter revision processes, including the one formed last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which saw three charter amendments passed by voters, all of which, some argued, could have simply been passed as local law.</p> <p>Kellermann and her successor at CBC, Andrew Rein, did recommend that the charter consider a proposal to create a rainy day fund for the city. Though Kellerman noted that it would require authorization from the state as well, she said the charter commission could create the criteria for it and present it to voters for their approval, strengthening the city’s case in front of the state. She also pushed for greater transparency in the capital budget, including by expanding the annual statement of needs that agencies provide to all city-controlled public authority assets.</p> <p>On a proposal to create independent budgeting for certain offices -- such as the public advocate, comptroller, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board -- Kellerman warned that it would be “dangerous” and could disrupt the city’s budget process by giving other elected officials besides the mayor creeping authority over the budget.</p> <p>“The City Charter calls for a lot more clarity on programmatic spending and performance in the city’s operating budget than we actually see in practice,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city agency. He noted that the budget includes units of appropriation that are overly broad and that obscure spending, and that the charter should be strengthened to require units to be linked to individual programs. Kellermann also said as much, though she laid some blame at the City Council’s feet. “The Council really needs to insist more on doing this...but the definition in the charter is already clear that they need to be more specific than they are,” she said.</p> <p>Sweeting recommended that the charter commission start looking at ways to improve the Retiree Health Benefits Trust, which the city uses as a form of reserves, as a means of testing the appropriate way to create a dedicated rainy day fund. That could include specific “rules for when deposits have to be made and when withdrawals could be made.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Time for the City to Pay Up 2019-02-21T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-21T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8299-time-for-the-city-to-pay-up Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/just-bra-pu.jpg" alt="Justin Brannan" width="600" height="405" /></p> <p>Justin Brannan, the author (photo: @JustinBrannan)</p> <hr /> <p>Talk is cheap. The city needs to pay up.</p> <p>We have all been impacted by the important work of hundreds of human services providers across the city, many of which are deeply rooted in our communities. These vital non-profit organizations deliver services to New York City’s most vulnerable – the poor, the hungry, the homeless, our children, our grandparents. The clear and powerful impact of this sector makes it easy for politicians to praise the services these non-profits provide — but such talk is cheap if you don’t back it up with action.</p> <p>The uncomfortable truth is that these crucial organizations are very much at risk and in direct harm at the hands of the same government agencies and elected officials who praise them. How so?</p> <p>Human services contracts are registered late by city agencies 94% of the time, forcing organizations to make impossible decisions to bridge massive gaps in their funding. Ninety-four percent!</p> <p>In fact, most city contracts with non-profit human services providers are registered months or even years after these non-profits begin providing the services they cover. While this money is being held up by a broken and opaque contracting system, critical support for children, the elderly, those experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, those living with HIV and AIDS, immigrants, and individuals coping with substance abuse and mental health challenges are put in direct risk.</p> <p>This is shocking and unacceptable.</p> <p>A domestic violence shelter cannot close for months while the city gets its act together. Senior centers can’t stop serving daily meals because of a funding gap due to a late payment from the city. Instead, non-profits are forced to front money, taking on costly loans and lines of credit with high rates of interest that are never reimbursed by the city agencies that held up their money up in the first place.</p> <p>I cannot believe this has somehow become the status quo. It must change.</p> <p>There are real human and financial consequences if a non-profit doesn’t start its services on time. Not to mention the corresponding challenges for those who work providing these crucial services.</p> <p>It is time for those responsible for this crisis to step up. Non-profits have borne the brunt of the city’s delays, putting the financial health of their organizations in jeopardy to ensure communities receive critical services. While no contract should ever force a provider to start delivering services before being paid, at the very least non-profits should not bear the cost! Those interest payments must be the responsibility of those at fault and should be paid, in full, by the city, a requirement that would provide a direct incentive to process contracts on time.</p> <p>It is also important that there is clear public access to data about which city agencies have the longest delays and why contracts are being held up. This information is vital not only to promote accountability but also to seek the needed remedies to this failure.</p> <p>Contracts and the procurement process may not be the sexiest topic in this city of headlines, but it has an exponentially reverberating effect on the city and how it functions. If we allow this to continue, these compounding late payments to the human services sector will only get worse and soon every neighborhood will suffer the consequences.</p> <p>As chair of the City Council’s Committee on Contracts, I have heard dozens upon dozens of devastating stories about how organizations are impacted by these unnecessary barriers built around them by the city. Talk is cheap. Action is long overdue – we must act now to address this crisis.</p> <p>***<br /> City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of southern Brooklyn. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/just-bra-pu.jpg" alt="Justin Brannan" width="600" height="405" /></p> <p>Justin Brannan, the author (photo: @JustinBrannan)</p> <hr /> <p>Talk is cheap. The city needs to pay up.</p> <p>We have all been impacted by the important work of hundreds of human services providers across the city, many of which are deeply rooted in our communities. These vital non-profit organizations deliver services to New York City’s most vulnerable – the poor, the hungry, the homeless, our children, our grandparents. The clear and powerful impact of this sector makes it easy for politicians to praise the services these non-profits provide — but such talk is cheap if you don’t back it up with action.</p> <p>The uncomfortable truth is that these crucial organizations are very much at risk and in direct harm at the hands of the same government agencies and elected officials who praise them. How so?</p> <p>Human services contracts are registered late by city agencies 94% of the time, forcing organizations to make impossible decisions to bridge massive gaps in their funding. Ninety-four percent!</p> <p>In fact, most city contracts with non-profit human services providers are registered months or even years after these non-profits begin providing the services they cover. While this money is being held up by a broken and opaque contracting system, critical support for children, the elderly, those experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, those living with HIV and AIDS, immigrants, and individuals coping with substance abuse and mental health challenges are put in direct risk.</p> <p>This is shocking and unacceptable.</p> <p>A domestic violence shelter cannot close for months while the city gets its act together. Senior centers can’t stop serving daily meals because of a funding gap due to a late payment from the city. Instead, non-profits are forced to front money, taking on costly loans and lines of credit with high rates of interest that are never reimbursed by the city agencies that held up their money up in the first place.</p> <p>I cannot believe this has somehow become the status quo. It must change.</p> <p>There are real human and financial consequences if a non-profit doesn’t start its services on time. Not to mention the corresponding challenges for those who work providing these crucial services.</p> <p>It is time for those responsible for this crisis to step up. Non-profits have borne the brunt of the city’s delays, putting the financial health of their organizations in jeopardy to ensure communities receive critical services. While no contract should ever force a provider to start delivering services before being paid, at the very least non-profits should not bear the cost! Those interest payments must be the responsibility of those at fault and should be paid, in full, by the city, a requirement that would provide a direct incentive to process contracts on time.</p> <p>It is also important that there is clear public access to data about which city agencies have the longest delays and why contracts are being held up. This information is vital not only to promote accountability but also to seek the needed remedies to this failure.</p> <p>Contracts and the procurement process may not be the sexiest topic in this city of headlines, but it has an exponentially reverberating effect on the city and how it functions. If we allow this to continue, these compounding late payments to the human services sector will only get worse and soon every neighborhood will suffer the consequences.</p> <p>As chair of the City Council’s Committee on Contracts, I have heard dozens upon dozens of devastating stories about how organizations are impacted by these unnecessary barriers built around them by the city. Talk is cheap. Action is long overdue – we must act now to address this crisis.</p> <p>***<br /> City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of southern Brooklyn. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

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Fixing the City's Broken Approach to Nonprofit Contracting 2018-07-12T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-12T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7801-fixing-the-city-rsquo-s-broken-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/scott-stringer-presser1.jpg" alt="scott stringer" width="600" /></p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, a co-author (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>From housing for homeless families to meals for our seniors, non-profit organizations are on the front lines of our city, supporting our most vulnerable neighbors. Yet these groups are surviving hand-to-mouth when it comes to funding and often it’s our own city government that’s stalling the contracting process and delaying payments that thousands of nonprofits rely on.</p> <p>In a new report, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office looked at thousands of human service contracts, and found an astounding 90 percent were submitted to the Comptroller’s Office for registration by a City agency after the contract start date had already passed, with half of them arriving six or more months late. Some agencies, including the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Education, submitted over 99% of their contracts late.</p> <p>The consequences of the City’s chronic lateness are huge. Because vendors don’t get paid until their contracts are registered, widespread delays in the contracting process force cash-strapped nonprofits to take out loans, miss payroll, or potentially cut services, just to deal with the shortfall in cash. In the last fiscal year alone, nonprofits took 751 City-issued bridge loans worth $149.9 million in total to keep the wheels turning as the City slowly processed their contracts.</p> <p>It’s unacceptable. The burden of the City’s sluggish procurement process shouldn’t fall on our non-profit partners. That’s why we’re calling for common-sense reforms to break through the bureaucracy.</p> <p>The City should build a public tracking system for contracts. If you can track a package as it moves across continents, you should be able to track contracts as they move through City agencies. Moreover, the City must develop clear metrics and strict timeframes throughout the procurement process, which will bring a basic level of transparency and accountability into this system.</p> <p>Consider this: a non-profit is awarded a City contract to provide job training, with a specific start date for summer programming. That contract then goes through multiple layers of bureaucracy at the contracting agency before going over to some, if not all, of the following oversight agencies for review: the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, the Law Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Investigation, and the Division of Labor Services at the Department of Small Business Services.</p> <p>These levels of review are crucial and help to safeguard the integrity of the City’s public procurement process, rooting out waste and fraud. But as these agencies are not held accountable to deadlines, the full process can take months or even years to complete before the contract arrives at the Comptroller’s Office for registration.</p> <p>In the end, the non-profit is left waiting for its contract and subsequent payment, without information on the process. This forces hundreds of non-profits into an impossible catch-22: wait to begin work, which can stall vital services and drive up costs – and in reality is rarely possible – or begin work without a registered contract, which can jeopardize the organization’s finances.</p> <p>But with strict time-frames and a tracking system, non-profits might be spared this turmoil and gain some control in a process that currently treats their ability to function and help thousands of New Yorkers as an afterthought.</p> <p>What we’re putting forward is a blueprint for the City to do better. Making these fixes will bring the contracting process in line with the City’s priorities, because behind these contracts are people who need food to eat, a roof to sleep under, or someone to care for them. These people are our neighbors, our relatives, and our friends. And right now, the snail’s pace of City agencies is putting their care at risk.</p> <p>***<br /> Scott Stringer is New York City Comptroller and Jose (Joey) Ortiz, Jr., is the Executive Director of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCComptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCComptroller</a> and &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/JoeyOrtizJr">@JoeyOrtizJr</a> of <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCETC_org">@NYCETC_org</a></p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/scott-stringer-presser1.jpg" alt="scott stringer" width="600" /></p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, a co-author (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>From housing for homeless families to meals for our seniors, non-profit organizations are on the front lines of our city, supporting our most vulnerable neighbors. Yet these groups are surviving hand-to-mouth when it comes to funding and often it’s our own city government that’s stalling the contracting process and delaying payments that thousands of nonprofits rely on.</p> <p>In a new report, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office looked at thousands of human service contracts, and found an astounding 90 percent were submitted to the Comptroller’s Office for registration by a City agency after the contract start date had already passed, with half of them arriving six or more months late. Some agencies, including the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Education, submitted over 99% of their contracts late.</p> <p>The consequences of the City’s chronic lateness are huge. Because vendors don’t get paid until their contracts are registered, widespread delays in the contracting process force cash-strapped nonprofits to take out loans, miss payroll, or potentially cut services, just to deal with the shortfall in cash. In the last fiscal year alone, nonprofits took 751 City-issued bridge loans worth $149.9 million in total to keep the wheels turning as the City slowly processed their contracts.</p> <p>It’s unacceptable. The burden of the City’s sluggish procurement process shouldn’t fall on our non-profit partners. That’s why we’re calling for common-sense reforms to break through the bureaucracy.</p> <p>The City should build a public tracking system for contracts. If you can track a package as it moves across continents, you should be able to track contracts as they move through City agencies. Moreover, the City must develop clear metrics and strict timeframes throughout the procurement process, which will bring a basic level of transparency and accountability into this system.</p> <p>Consider this: a non-profit is awarded a City contract to provide job training, with a specific start date for summer programming. That contract then goes through multiple layers of bureaucracy at the contracting agency before going over to some, if not all, of the following oversight agencies for review: the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, the Law Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Investigation, and the Division of Labor Services at the Department of Small Business Services.</p> <p>These levels of review are crucial and help to safeguard the integrity of the City’s public procurement process, rooting out waste and fraud. But as these agencies are not held accountable to deadlines, the full process can take months or even years to complete before the contract arrives at the Comptroller’s Office for registration.</p> <p>In the end, the non-profit is left waiting for its contract and subsequent payment, without information on the process. This forces hundreds of non-profits into an impossible catch-22: wait to begin work, which can stall vital services and drive up costs – and in reality is rarely possible – or begin work without a registered contract, which can jeopardize the organization’s finances.</p> <p>But with strict time-frames and a tracking system, non-profits might be spared this turmoil and gain some control in a process that currently treats their ability to function and help thousands of New Yorkers as an afterthought.</p> <p>What we’re putting forward is a blueprint for the City to do better. Making these fixes will bring the contracting process in line with the City’s priorities, because behind these contracts are people who need food to eat, a roof to sleep under, or someone to care for them. These people are our neighbors, our relatives, and our friends. And right now, the snail’s pace of City agencies is putting their care at risk.</p> <p>***<br /> Scott Stringer is New York City Comptroller and Jose (Joey) Ortiz, Jr., is the Executive Director of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCComptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCComptroller</a> and &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/JoeyOrtizJr">@JoeyOrtizJr</a> of <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCETC_org">@NYCETC_org</a></p> <p>

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Added Scrutiny of City’s Delinquent Contracting Practices 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7748-added-scrutiny-of-city-s-delinquent-contracting-practices Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cm-stephlevin-ant-reynoso.jpg" alt="cm stephlevin ant reynoso" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.</p> <p>The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.</p> <p>“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=605915&amp;GUID=E847EE2B-9412-4205-B4B2-D7FE144D23D8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">oversight hearing</a> on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.</p> <p>The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”</p> <p>It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”</p> <p>The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.</p> <p>“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.</p> <p>“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6266-city-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting-questioned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime</a>.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.</p> <p>According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth &amp; Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).</p> <p>All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.</p> <p>Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> that was released on Monday June 12.</p> <p>DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.</p> <p>When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”</p> <p>“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added. &nbsp;</p> <p>DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.</p> <p>“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”</p> <p>“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”</p> <p>Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.</p> <p>“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.</p> <p>The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.</p> <p>“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”</p> <p>Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”</p> <p>The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”</p> <p>More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cm-stephlevin-ant-reynoso.jpg" alt="cm stephlevin ant reynoso" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.</p> <p>The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.</p> <p>“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=605915&amp;GUID=E847EE2B-9412-4205-B4B2-D7FE144D23D8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">oversight hearing</a> on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.</p> <p>The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”</p> <p>It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”</p> <p>The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.</p> <p>“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.</p> <p>“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6266-city-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting-questioned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime</a>.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.</p> <p>According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth &amp; Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).</p> <p>All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.</p> <p>Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> that was released on Monday June 12.</p> <p>DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.</p> <p>When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”</p> <p>“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added. &nbsp;</p> <p>DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.</p> <p>“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”</p> <p>“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”</p> <p>Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.</p> <p>“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.</p> <p>The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.</p> <p>“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”</p> <p>Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”</p> <p>The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”</p> <p>More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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Stringer Updates Transparency Website to Show More Subcontracting 2017-07-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-07-27T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7092-stringer-updates-transparency-website-to-show-more-subcontracting Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/stringer_podium.jpg" alt="stringer podium" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Comptroller (photo via @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is modifying the website showing city spending to include more information on sub-vendors, providing an added layer of transparency to the tool that helps shed light on hundreds of billions of dollars in city contracting. <a href="http://www.checkbooknyc.com/spending_landing/yeartype/B/year/118" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Checkbook NYC</a>, the financial accountability portal run by the comptroller’s office with real-time data on the city’s complicated web of spending, contracts, and vendors, will get this updated starting Friday, Stringer is set to announce.</p> <p>The site, which consists of a series of interactive charts and graphs displaying city agency spending and contracts, already features a dashboard of sub-vendors with information on payments by agency, contract, and primary vendor.</p> <p>Stringer’s office is adding information on the number of contracts that require sub-vendor data and how many have submitted it; the number of proposed sub-vendors approved or rejected by agency chief contracting officers (CCOs); the numbers of sub-vendors at different stages of approval at each agency; and the general number of sub-contracts by prime vendors by agency.</p> <p>Additionally, the entry for each individual contract will indicate whether the contractor is required to report sub-vendor information, if that information has been submitted, and where proposed sub-vendors are in the approval process.</p> <p>“This is the start of the process – not the end. Right now, there’s a small amount of sub-vendor information in Checkbook. It won’t be filled overnight. Over time, we know more information will be added and we know it will yield a more open government,” Stringer said in a statement announcing the Checkbook expansion.</p> <p>These sub-vendors are entities hired by a contract’s primary vendor to complete certain tasks. For example, the city’s Department of Design and Construction might hire a large construction firm to work on city-owned buildings. The construction firm, in turn, might pay consultants, engineering firms, and equipment firms as part of their city contract; these would be sub-vendors. According to data on the portal, they have been collectively paid over $450 million so far in fiscal year 2017.</p> <p><a href="http://www.checkbooknyc.com/spending_landing/yeartype/B/year/118" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CheckbookNYC</a> was officially launched in 2010 by then-comptroller John Liu in an effort to increase fiscal transparency. It’s evolved since; this will be the third update made by Stringer, a first-term Democrat, since taking office at the beginning of 2014. An August 2014 update brought in data on contracts with the city’s Economic Development Corporation and a February 2015 update included information on minority and women-owned business and created the sub-vendor dashboard.</p> <p>Not all the data will be immediately available. According to the comptroller’s office, “not every prime vendor and agency is in compliance with Citywide reporting rules.” The new feature is in part targeted at increasing reporting compliance.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/stringer_podium.jpg" alt="stringer podium" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Comptroller (photo via @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is modifying the website showing city spending to include more information on sub-vendors, providing an added layer of transparency to the tool that helps shed light on hundreds of billions of dollars in city contracting. <a href="http://www.checkbooknyc.com/spending_landing/yeartype/B/year/118" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Checkbook NYC</a>, the financial accountability portal run by the comptroller’s office with real-time data on the city’s complicated web of spending, contracts, and vendors, will get this updated starting Friday, Stringer is set to announce.</p> <p>The site, which consists of a series of interactive charts and graphs displaying city agency spending and contracts, already features a dashboard of sub-vendors with information on payments by agency, contract, and primary vendor.</p> <p>Stringer’s office is adding information on the number of contracts that require sub-vendor data and how many have submitted it; the number of proposed sub-vendors approved or rejected by agency chief contracting officers (CCOs); the numbers of sub-vendors at different stages of approval at each agency; and the general number of sub-contracts by prime vendors by agency.</p> <p>Additionally, the entry for each individual contract will indicate whether the contractor is required to report sub-vendor information, if that information has been submitted, and where proposed sub-vendors are in the approval process.</p> <p>“This is the start of the process – not the end. Right now, there’s a small amount of sub-vendor information in Checkbook. It won’t be filled overnight. Over time, we know more information will be added and we know it will yield a more open government,” Stringer said in a statement announcing the Checkbook expansion.</p> <p>These sub-vendors are entities hired by a contract’s primary vendor to complete certain tasks. For example, the city’s Department of Design and Construction might hire a large construction firm to work on city-owned buildings. The construction firm, in turn, might pay consultants, engineering firms, and equipment firms as part of their city contract; these would be sub-vendors. According to data on the portal, they have been collectively paid over $450 million so far in fiscal year 2017.</p> <p><a href="http://www.checkbooknyc.com/spending_landing/yeartype/B/year/118" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CheckbookNYC</a> was officially launched in 2010 by then-comptroller John Liu in an effort to increase fiscal transparency. It’s evolved since; this will be the third update made by Stringer, a first-term Democrat, since taking office at the beginning of 2014. An August 2014 update brought in data on contracts with the city’s Economic Development Corporation and a February 2015 update included information on minority and women-owned business and created the sub-vendor dashboard.</p> <p>Not all the data will be immediately available. According to the comptroller’s office, “not every prime vendor and agency is in compliance with Citywide reporting rules.” The new feature is in part targeted at increasing reporting compliance.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [DATA] Point? $780 Million, with Comptroller DiNapoli 2017-06-29T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-29T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7034-what-s-the-data-point-comptroller-dinapoli Super User <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The Data Point? Episode 3 -- $780 million, with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. [You can download What's The Data Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <p>For the third episode of What's The [Data] Point? we were joined by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the state's chief fiscal watchdog. With hosts Ben Max and Maria Doulis, DiNapoli discusses his thus far unsuccessful efforts to reform the state's contracting processes in the wake of the $780 million bid-rigging scandal that broke last year with federal charges brought against nine associates of and donors to Governor Andrew Cuomo. DiNapoli also talks state budget matters and the importance of monitoring how taxpayer dollars are spent.</p> <p>Listen and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis">@MariaDoulis</a>) of CBC, and special guest state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (<a href="https://twitter.com/NYSComptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYSComptroller</a>):</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/330797658&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The Data Point? Episode 3 -- $780 million, with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. [You can download What's The Data Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <p>For the third episode of What's The [Data] Point? we were joined by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the state's chief fiscal watchdog. With hosts Ben Max and Maria Doulis, DiNapoli discusses his thus far unsuccessful efforts to reform the state's contracting processes in the wake of the $780 million bid-rigging scandal that broke last year with federal charges brought against nine associates of and donors to Governor Andrew Cuomo. DiNapoli also talks state budget matters and the importance of monitoring how taxpayer dollars are spent.</p> <p>Listen and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis">@MariaDoulis</a>) of CBC, and special guest state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (<a href="https://twitter.com/NYSComptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYSComptroller</a>):</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/330797658&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Mayoral Control or Not, Calls Continue for Contracting Reform at City Department of Education 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7021-mayoral-control-or-not-calls-continue-for-contracting-reform-at-city-department-of-education Samar Khurshid <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/34245950295_dc5da482b5_z.jpg" alt="34245950295 dc5da482b5 z" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City elected officials and independent watchdogs continue to voice concerns about the Department of Education’s transparency and contract procurement process. The issue became a flashpoint in the debate over mayoral control of New York City schools, which Albany lawmakers have yet to extend despite a June 30 expiration date. Like other powers over the schools, education-related contracting -- totaling billions of dollars per year -- has been centralized under the Mayor and the DOE through the mayoral control model of school governance.</p> <p>In the recently adopted city budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, about one-third of the $85.2 billion of operating funding is allocated to the DOE. Most of that funding goes to personnel, but there is a significant sum, about $7 billion, which will be devoted to outside contracts. While there have been no major recent scandals, the process by which the DOE awards those contracts, as well as the availability of information about the contracts, continues to draw criticism.</p> <p>Chief among those critics have been Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Contracts. They are joined by nonprofit leaders who have scrutinized DOE practices for years, including under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first won mayoral control of city schools in 2002, ending the old Board of Education system. While there have been multiple high-profile contracting scandals, recently the concern has been a constant stream of smaller-scale, everyday contracts awarded without proper processes, critics say.</p> <p>Stringer has repeatedly and publicly pressured the DOE to disclose more information and clean up its procurement practices. Most recently, Stringer did so in testimony to the City Council as the new budget was being debated. In part, Stringer said that as revenue growth to the city is slowing, there is heightened need for the DOE to be sufficiently scrupulous.</p> <p>According to Stringer, the Department still does not pay enough attention to ensuring the DOE’s billions in contract funding is spent efficiently. “Time and time again, my office finds that current departmental processes are inadequate,” Stringer stated in his testimony, citing $6.7 billion for fiscal year 2018. “Whether it is through an audit of DOE or a review of DOE’s contracts, we find a lack of transparency and a lack of detail that is frightening when you are talking about billions of dollars earmarked for our children.”</p> <p>“The DOE claims to have a system of checks and balances,” Stringer continued, “but if you dig into the details you will find a lack of independent review, a lack of accountability and whole lot of rubber stamps.”</p> <p>Stringer also called the DOE “one of the least transparent agencies in the government,” adding he felt the DOE would “rather hide everything than open up their books." (Stringer’s statements were quickly used by state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the mayoral control debate. The comptroller quickly reiterated his support for mayoral control in no uncertain terms.)</p> <p>When pressed for specifics, a spokesperson for Stringer pointed to wasted funds on technology initiatives, failure to detect collusion to drive up prices by food suppliers, late release of 70% pre-kindergarten contract information prior to the 2014 school year, and overpaying on custodial supplies, which Stringer has pointed out over the last three-plus years since he took office as Comptroller and de Blasio became Mayor.</p> <p>Along with these examples, there have been several other instances in which improper contracting practices have cost the city and harmed the DOE’s reputation. In 2008, the city Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) found the DOE had squandered $437,000 on payments to DynTek, a vendor for the DOE’s Department of Instructional and Information Technology which had been paying computer consultants employed by ERS Systems without the DOE’s authorization. “ERS billed DynTek for these services and DynTek, in turn, marked up these costs before billing the DOE,” according to the SCI. Three years later, a consultant Willard (Ross) Lanham was charged with funneling $3.6 million of DOE funds into his own pockets.</p> <p>In 2015, Custom Computer Specialists, a contractor the DOE considered, almost received a $1.1 billion deal to provide hardware and software to schools despite questions about the size of the contract and process involved, as well as the firm's indirect connection to an overbilling scheme. Outcry, led by education activist Leonie Haimson and Council Member Rosenthal, killed the potential deal. Most recently, in May, the Comptroller’s office released an analysis that revealed that after spending over $347 million on upgrading internet services, 45 percent of teachers said their schools’ internet quality “did not meet their instructional needs,” a survey of middle school teachers found.</p> <p>At a May City Council hearing regarding the 2018 budget, Rosenthal asked if the city Office of Management and Budget has unearthed similar problems to the ones in 2015, such as approval of “specious contracts.” “I would like to know that the OMB is doing a regular audit of its contracts,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>“I would want to know that the DOE is regularly being investigated,” said Rosenthal. “If we were to do that more systematically then we would have more available to us to spend on things we so desperately need.”</p> <p>Rosenthal, who chairs the contracts committee and sits on the education committee, credits Haimson with calling attention to chronic DOE contracting deficiencies. As a response to Haimson bringing awareness to the issue, she has headed efforts to ignite change in the Department. Rosenthal, however, declined to explicitly comment on Stringer’s testimony, and separated herself from the Comptroller's narrative. The Manhattan Council member believes that the DOE has actually improved considerably of late in contracting and openness, especially since she's undertaken efforts to bend the department toward better practices.</p> <p>“I do thank you for what’s been done,” Rosenthal said to Dean Fuleihan, Director of the OMB. She framed the situation by contending the previous mayoral administration had “dug a hole,” and the current one is in the process of getting New York City public education out of it.</p> <p>"What I’ve seen is positive steps that have allowed for more oversight and transparency,” Rosenthal said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The Upper West Side lawmaker emphasized that, in her view, DOE has allowed City Hall to both scrutinize the Department and collaborate with it. "They have made the contracting process more transparent...they have improved, I think, the oversight relationship with the city agencies,“ she said. Rosenthal noted that if capital and service contract costs rise, that information is now relayed to the City Council. "That's a big change.”</p> <p>According to Rosenthal, contracting practice woes have been ameliorated and their details brought into the limelight in recent years, as evidenced by the Department beginning to post contract information online.</p> <p>Still, while Rosenthal was clear that the DOE has progressed, there is room for improvement. "Is it perfect yet? Of course not,” she said. “But is it much better? Absolutely.” Rosenthal was optimistic about the prospect of additional improvements. She said the City Council and DOE have a “good constructive relationship moving forward.”</p> <p>Nonetheless, Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group, is not as satisfied with the DOE as Rosenthal. “The budget is still increasing with little or no transparency," Haimson said in an email to Gotham Gazette. By phone, Haimson expressed skepticism about how the DOE manages its enormous budget and its forthrightness in doing so.</p> <p>“I am very disappointed in the whole process because we’ve been sounding the alarm for years now about the lack of transparency with these huge contracts that go through the PEP [Panel for Educational Policy],” she said.</p> <p>The PEP is a body consisting of 13 members appointed by elected officials, predominantly by the Mayor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Panel to replace the Board of Education after the city gained mayoral control of schools. The PEP is designed to conduct independent oversight of the Department of Education but has not necessarily functioned in that manner.</p> <p>As the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/08/school-spending-panel-doe-bullies-us-to-side-with-de-blasio/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a> reported last summer, one former PEP member alleges the group is comprised of members who were not equipped to properly review the budget and were pressured into doing the Mayor’s bidding. And, in Haimson’s opinion, the PEP still does not properly vet contracts, allowing the DOE to act with impunity. "I don't think it’s ever turned down a contract in its existence,” Haimson said, referring to the reputation the PEP has as a rubber stamp, both on policy and contracting. "It hasn't gotten better in some ways and in many ways it has gotten worse," she said of the DOE overall.</p> <p>The DOE engaging in sloppy, questionable dealings in secret is not new, said Haimson, who has worked as an education activist since the early aughts. Like Rosenthal, she alleges these problems became rampant under Mayor Bloomberg. “[A]s the budget rose dramatically and the oversight was more critical, Bloomberg didn't want any more scrutiny,” she said.</p> <p>However, unlike Rosenthal, Haimson says the DOE’s forthcomingness has gotten worse, not better, with de Blasio at the helm. “Under Bloomberg, I was able to go to OMB meetings,” she said, alleging she had been barred from these meetings in recent years. "The fact that the Mayor’s Office has more oversight may be good. [But] [w]e don't even know," Haimson said. “There doesn't seem to be anyone looking over their shoulders," she said, adding that providing ample DOE oversight would necessitate an independent commission.</p> <p>The Department of Education disputes claims that it is not careful or candid in its contracting processes. “Our procurement process is transparent and has strong oversight mechanisms, while delivering essential services to students and schools,” a DOE spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Though not related to contracting practices, Council Member Ben Kallos <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/nyregion/nyc-public-schools.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced</a> a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2962029&amp;GUID=DB5A6F41-42F2-4EC8-9AC9-3DD4F67004CE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=Education" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> in February that would require the DOE to more thoroughly disclose information about applications and enrollment to New York City public schools. The bill was pre-considered, and a hearing was held on it before it was introduced.&nbsp;</p> <p>"The bill has received some internal support, it has had its hearing and negotiations are ongoing to possibly move it forward," said a spokesperson for Kallos regarding the bill’s status.</p> <p>A representative for City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Committee on Education, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of the Kallos legislation, along with inquiries pertaining to DOE transparency and contracting practices.</p> <p>“We have our own issue with DOE," Kallos’ spokesperson said. "Obviously Council Member Kallos wouldn’t have released the bill if [the DOE] was a model of transparency.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the bill introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos.<br />Note: This article has been updated to more accurately depict the situation involving Custom Computer Specialists and a potential contract it was being considered for.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/34245950295_dc5da482b5_z.jpg" alt="34245950295 dc5da482b5 z" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City elected officials and independent watchdogs continue to voice concerns about the Department of Education’s transparency and contract procurement process. The issue became a flashpoint in the debate over mayoral control of New York City schools, which Albany lawmakers have yet to extend despite a June 30 expiration date. Like other powers over the schools, education-related contracting -- totaling billions of dollars per year -- has been centralized under the Mayor and the DOE through the mayoral control model of school governance.</p> <p>In the recently adopted city budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, about one-third of the $85.2 billion of operating funding is allocated to the DOE. Most of that funding goes to personnel, but there is a significant sum, about $7 billion, which will be devoted to outside contracts. While there have been no major recent scandals, the process by which the DOE awards those contracts, as well as the availability of information about the contracts, continues to draw criticism.</p> <p>Chief among those critics have been Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Contracts. They are joined by nonprofit leaders who have scrutinized DOE practices for years, including under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first won mayoral control of city schools in 2002, ending the old Board of Education system. While there have been multiple high-profile contracting scandals, recently the concern has been a constant stream of smaller-scale, everyday contracts awarded without proper processes, critics say.</p> <p>Stringer has repeatedly and publicly pressured the DOE to disclose more information and clean up its procurement practices. Most recently, Stringer did so in testimony to the City Council as the new budget was being debated. In part, Stringer said that as revenue growth to the city is slowing, there is heightened need for the DOE to be sufficiently scrupulous.</p> <p>According to Stringer, the Department still does not pay enough attention to ensuring the DOE’s billions in contract funding is spent efficiently. “Time and time again, my office finds that current departmental processes are inadequate,” Stringer stated in his testimony, citing $6.7 billion for fiscal year 2018. “Whether it is through an audit of DOE or a review of DOE’s contracts, we find a lack of transparency and a lack of detail that is frightening when you are talking about billions of dollars earmarked for our children.”</p> <p>“The DOE claims to have a system of checks and balances,” Stringer continued, “but if you dig into the details you will find a lack of independent review, a lack of accountability and whole lot of rubber stamps.”</p> <p>Stringer also called the DOE “one of the least transparent agencies in the government,” adding he felt the DOE would “rather hide everything than open up their books." (Stringer’s statements were quickly used by state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the mayoral control debate. The comptroller quickly reiterated his support for mayoral control in no uncertain terms.)</p> <p>When pressed for specifics, a spokesperson for Stringer pointed to wasted funds on technology initiatives, failure to detect collusion to drive up prices by food suppliers, late release of 70% pre-kindergarten contract information prior to the 2014 school year, and overpaying on custodial supplies, which Stringer has pointed out over the last three-plus years since he took office as Comptroller and de Blasio became Mayor.</p> <p>Along with these examples, there have been several other instances in which improper contracting practices have cost the city and harmed the DOE’s reputation. In 2008, the city Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) found the DOE had squandered $437,000 on payments to DynTek, a vendor for the DOE’s Department of Instructional and Information Technology which had been paying computer consultants employed by ERS Systems without the DOE’s authorization. “ERS billed DynTek for these services and DynTek, in turn, marked up these costs before billing the DOE,” according to the SCI. Three years later, a consultant Willard (Ross) Lanham was charged with funneling $3.6 million of DOE funds into his own pockets.</p> <p>In 2015, Custom Computer Specialists, a contractor the DOE considered, almost received a $1.1 billion deal to provide hardware and software to schools despite questions about the size of the contract and process involved, as well as the firm's indirect connection to an overbilling scheme. Outcry, led by education activist Leonie Haimson and Council Member Rosenthal, killed the potential deal. Most recently, in May, the Comptroller’s office released an analysis that revealed that after spending over $347 million on upgrading internet services, 45 percent of teachers said their schools’ internet quality “did not meet their instructional needs,” a survey of middle school teachers found.</p> <p>At a May City Council hearing regarding the 2018 budget, Rosenthal asked if the city Office of Management and Budget has unearthed similar problems to the ones in 2015, such as approval of “specious contracts.” “I would like to know that the OMB is doing a regular audit of its contracts,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>“I would want to know that the DOE is regularly being investigated,” said Rosenthal. “If we were to do that more systematically then we would have more available to us to spend on things we so desperately need.”</p> <p>Rosenthal, who chairs the contracts committee and sits on the education committee, credits Haimson with calling attention to chronic DOE contracting deficiencies. As a response to Haimson bringing awareness to the issue, she has headed efforts to ignite change in the Department. Rosenthal, however, declined to explicitly comment on Stringer’s testimony, and separated herself from the Comptroller's narrative. The Manhattan Council member believes that the DOE has actually improved considerably of late in contracting and openness, especially since she's undertaken efforts to bend the department toward better practices.</p> <p>“I do thank you for what’s been done,” Rosenthal said to Dean Fuleihan, Director of the OMB. She framed the situation by contending the previous mayoral administration had “dug a hole,” and the current one is in the process of getting New York City public education out of it.</p> <p>"What I’ve seen is positive steps that have allowed for more oversight and transparency,” Rosenthal said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The Upper West Side lawmaker emphasized that, in her view, DOE has allowed City Hall to both scrutinize the Department and collaborate with it. "They have made the contracting process more transparent...they have improved, I think, the oversight relationship with the city agencies,“ she said. Rosenthal noted that if capital and service contract costs rise, that information is now relayed to the City Council. "That's a big change.”</p> <p>According to Rosenthal, contracting practice woes have been ameliorated and their details brought into the limelight in recent years, as evidenced by the Department beginning to post contract information online.</p> <p>Still, while Rosenthal was clear that the DOE has progressed, there is room for improvement. "Is it perfect yet? Of course not,” she said. “But is it much better? Absolutely.” Rosenthal was optimistic about the prospect of additional improvements. She said the City Council and DOE have a “good constructive relationship moving forward.”</p> <p>Nonetheless, Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group, is not as satisfied with the DOE as Rosenthal. “The budget is still increasing with little or no transparency," Haimson said in an email to Gotham Gazette. By phone, Haimson expressed skepticism about how the DOE manages its enormous budget and its forthrightness in doing so.</p> <p>“I am very disappointed in the whole process because we’ve been sounding the alarm for years now about the lack of transparency with these huge contracts that go through the PEP [Panel for Educational Policy],” she said.</p> <p>The PEP is a body consisting of 13 members appointed by elected officials, predominantly by the Mayor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Panel to replace the Board of Education after the city gained mayoral control of schools. The PEP is designed to conduct independent oversight of the Department of Education but has not necessarily functioned in that manner.</p> <p>As the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/08/school-spending-panel-doe-bullies-us-to-side-with-de-blasio/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a> reported last summer, one former PEP member alleges the group is comprised of members who were not equipped to properly review the budget and were pressured into doing the Mayor’s bidding. And, in Haimson’s opinion, the PEP still does not properly vet contracts, allowing the DOE to act with impunity. "I don't think it’s ever turned down a contract in its existence,” Haimson said, referring to the reputation the PEP has as a rubber stamp, both on policy and contracting. "It hasn't gotten better in some ways and in many ways it has gotten worse," she said of the DOE overall.</p> <p>The DOE engaging in sloppy, questionable dealings in secret is not new, said Haimson, who has worked as an education activist since the early aughts. Like Rosenthal, she alleges these problems became rampant under Mayor Bloomberg. “[A]s the budget rose dramatically and the oversight was more critical, Bloomberg didn't want any more scrutiny,” she said.</p> <p>However, unlike Rosenthal, Haimson says the DOE’s forthcomingness has gotten worse, not better, with de Blasio at the helm. “Under Bloomberg, I was able to go to OMB meetings,” she said, alleging she had been barred from these meetings in recent years. "The fact that the Mayor’s Office has more oversight may be good. [But] [w]e don't even know," Haimson said. “There doesn't seem to be anyone looking over their shoulders," she said, adding that providing ample DOE oversight would necessitate an independent commission.</p> <p>The Department of Education disputes claims that it is not careful or candid in its contracting processes. “Our procurement process is transparent and has strong oversight mechanisms, while delivering essential services to students and schools,” a DOE spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Though not related to contracting practices, Council Member Ben Kallos <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/nyregion/nyc-public-schools.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced</a> a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2962029&amp;GUID=DB5A6F41-42F2-4EC8-9AC9-3DD4F67004CE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=Education" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> in February that would require the DOE to more thoroughly disclose information about applications and enrollment to New York City public schools. The bill was pre-considered, and a hearing was held on it before it was introduced.&nbsp;</p> <p>"The bill has received some internal support, it has had its hearing and negotiations are ongoing to possibly move it forward," said a spokesperson for Kallos regarding the bill’s status.</p> <p>A representative for City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Committee on Education, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of the Kallos legislation, along with inquiries pertaining to DOE transparency and contracting practices.</p> <p>“We have our own issue with DOE," Kallos’ spokesperson said. "Obviously Council Member Kallos wouldn’t have released the bill if [the DOE] was a model of transparency.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the bill introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos.<br />Note: This article has been updated to more accurately depict the situation involving Custom Computer Specialists and a potential contract it was being considered for.</p> City Council Considers Subcontractors Bill of Rights 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7022-council-considers-bill-of-rights-for-subcontractors Samar Khurshid <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/12331075774_34a53d8c6d_z.jpg" alt="12331075774 34a53d8c6d z" width="600" height="411" /></p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Economic Development and the Committee on Contracts held a joint hearing on Thursday to discuss proposed legislation that would create a bill of rights for subcontractors working with the city.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3055671&amp;GUID=B9076E52-649D-4461-A4B1-0A057750D97F&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro.1615</a>, sponsored by Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Robert Cornegy, Jr., and Helen Rosenthal, would require the Department of Small Business Services to create a bill of rights that clearly lays out expectations for prime contractors and subcontractors, and makes it easier for subcontractors to find out what services and resources are available to them should they have a problem or concern with their contract. The legislation would apply to any contracts worth more than $100,000.</p> <p>“[Contracting] is the heart of so much of what we do here -- construction of public infrastructure and affordable housing, a whole range of human services from pre-K all the way up to senior services,” said Rosenthal, chair of the contracts committee, in her opening statement. “The contracting process is an essential part of how New York City government works.”</p> <p>The city has registered 12,949 expense contracts worth $20.3 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, which runs through June 30, and subcontractors accounted for $558 million of that sum, according to data available on the comptroller’s <a href="http://www.checkbooknyc.com/contracts_landing/status/A/yeartype/B/year/118/dashboard/ss" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Checkbook NYC</a> website. These subcontractors often face a number of hurdles including a lack of access to adequate legal representation to navigate contracts, receiving late payments, and not being able to apply for loans. This is especially true for subcontractors working in human services.</p> <p>“Contractors often pay subcontractors late because they cannot disburse government funds prior to completion of the service they are paying for, and they themselves are paid late,” explained Tracie Robinson, a senior policy analyst at the Human Services Council of New York, in her testimony. HSC represents thousands of nonprofits in New York and advocates for human services providers as a whole. “[Subcontractors] operate in the context of a broken contracting system. Only if we address the underlying causes of subcontractor instability -- problems at the government-contractor level -- will we be able to set prime contractors and subcontractors alike up for success.”</p> <p>Many subcontractors are nonprofit organizations and small businesses that are overshadowed by larger entities and do not have the same access to credit and fundraising. Intro. 1615 would make sure that subcontractors get an overview of the payment process, know the points of contact between government agencies, and can get the appropriate documents necessary to get the information and assistance they need.</p> <p>“Many smaller nonprofit organizations do not have in-house attorneys or staff with experience understanding and administering government contracts,” said Laura Abel, senior policy counsel for Lawyers Alliance for New York, a provider of business and legal services for nonprofits. “City contracts are long, dense, and full of legalese. As a result, nonprofit organizations may take on obligations that they do not understand and cannot fulfill.”</p> <p>Abel also added, “I have asked clients dealing with an unexpected development what their contract says about that issue, only to hear, ‘Oh, it’s all boilerplate, it’s no help.’ A subcontractor bill of rights can help by encouraging subcontractors to consult counsel before entering into a contract, and whenever they have questions during the life of the contract.”</p> <p>In addition, subcontractors are frequently minority- and women-owned businesses, commonly referred to as M/WBEs. The city has been trying to encourage the growth and development of M/WBEs to ensure a more equitable distribution of city money. M/WBEs also tend to be more familiar with local community needs compared to larger contractors. M/WBEs accounted for $245.8 million in subcontracts registered in fiscal 2017. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OneNYC plan</a> includes a commitment to award at least 30 percent of city contract dollars to M/WBEs by 2021 and to award $16 billion in city contracts to M/WBEs by 2025.</p> <p>Michael Owh, director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services and the city’s chief procurement officer, said the de Blasio administration supports the bill and that it “is a step in the right direction toward providing information to businesses and connecting them with resources.”</p> <p>When asked by Council Member Daniel Garodnick, the chair of the Committee on Economic Development, if the bill warranted any changes or edits, Owh emphasized that it would need input from all the stakeholders. “[We] want to make sure that we get enough feedback from not just our agencies but also the community, the contracting community, as well as the subcontracting community to make sure that we are able to take in all of the various factors,” Owh said.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/12331075774_34a53d8c6d_z.jpg" alt="12331075774 34a53d8c6d z" width="600" height="411" /></p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Economic Development and the Committee on Contracts held a joint hearing on Thursday to discuss proposed legislation that would create a bill of rights for subcontractors working with the city.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3055671&amp;GUID=B9076E52-649D-4461-A4B1-0A057750D97F&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro.1615</a>, sponsored by Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Robert Cornegy, Jr., and Helen Rosenthal, would require the Department of Small Business Services to create a bill of rights that clearly lays out expectations for prime contractors and subcontractors, and makes it easier for subcontractors to find out what services and resources are available to them should they have a problem or concern with their contract. The legislation would apply to any contracts worth more than $100,000.</p> <p>“[Contracting] is the heart of so much of what we do here -- construction of public infrastructure and affordable housing, a whole range of human services from pre-K all the way up to senior services,” said Rosenthal, chair of the contracts committee, in her opening statement. “The contracting process is an essential part of how New York City government works.”</p> <p>The city has registered 12,949 expense contracts worth $20.3 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, which runs through June 30, and subcontractors accounted for $558 million of that sum, according to data available on the comptroller’s <a href="http://www.checkbooknyc.com/contracts_landing/status/A/yeartype/B/year/118/dashboard/ss" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Checkbook NYC</a> website. These subcontractors often face a number of hurdles including a lack of access to adequate legal representation to navigate contracts, receiving late payments, and not being able to apply for loans. This is especially true for subcontractors working in human services.</p> <p>“Contractors often pay subcontractors late because they cannot disburse government funds prior to completion of the service they are paying for, and they themselves are paid late,” explained Tracie Robinson, a senior policy analyst at the Human Services Council of New York, in her testimony. HSC represents thousands of nonprofits in New York and advocates for human services providers as a whole. “[Subcontractors] operate in the context of a broken contracting system. Only if we address the underlying causes of subcontractor instability -- problems at the government-contractor level -- will we be able to set prime contractors and subcontractors alike up for success.”</p> <p>Many subcontractors are nonprofit organizations and small businesses that are overshadowed by larger entities and do not have the same access to credit and fundraising. Intro. 1615 would make sure that subcontractors get an overview of the payment process, know the points of contact between government agencies, and can get the appropriate documents necessary to get the information and assistance they need.</p> <p>“Many smaller nonprofit organizations do not have in-house attorneys or staff with experience understanding and administering government contracts,” said Laura Abel, senior policy counsel for Lawyers Alliance for New York, a provider of business and legal services for nonprofits. “City contracts are long, dense, and full of legalese. As a result, nonprofit organizations may take on obligations that they do not understand and cannot fulfill.”</p> <p>Abel also added, “I have asked clients dealing with an unexpected development what their contract says about that issue, only to hear, ‘Oh, it’s all boilerplate, it’s no help.’ A subcontractor bill of rights can help by encouraging subcontractors to consult counsel before entering into a contract, and whenever they have questions during the life of the contract.”</p> <p>In addition, subcontractors are frequently minority- and women-owned businesses, commonly referred to as M/WBEs. The city has been trying to encourage the growth and development of M/WBEs to ensure a more equitable distribution of city money. M/WBEs also tend to be more familiar with local community needs compared to larger contractors. M/WBEs accounted for $245.8 million in subcontracts registered in fiscal 2017. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OneNYC plan</a> includes a commitment to award at least 30 percent of city contract dollars to M/WBEs by 2021 and to award $16 billion in city contracts to M/WBEs by 2025.</p> <p>Michael Owh, director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services and the city’s chief procurement officer, said the de Blasio administration supports the bill and that it “is a step in the right direction toward providing information to businesses and connecting them with resources.”</p> <p>When asked by Council Member Daniel Garodnick, the chair of the Committee on Economic Development, if the bill warranted any changes or edits, Owh emphasized that it would need input from all the stakeholders. “[We] want to make sure that we get enough feedback from not just our agencies but also the community, the contracting community, as well as the subcontracting community to make sure that we are able to take in all of the various factors,” Owh said.</p> <p> </p> With Session Ending and Trial Looming, No Legislative Response to Bid-rigging Scandal 2017-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7007-with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/24253948132_378146d4bd_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Flanagan Heastie" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Flanagan, Cuomo, Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With just three scheduled days left in the legislative session and the corruption trial of several close associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo for their roles in a bid-rigging scandal scheduled to commence in October, the Legislature has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to prevent such abuses of the procurement process.</p> <p>State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has introduced a comprehensive bill to address the issue, which is the basis for a Senate bill sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, and sister legislation by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat. The legislation would restore authority of the Comptroller to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, particularly for SUNY and CUNY affiliated non-profits, a power that was stripped in 2011.</p> <p>That year, Cuomo and legislative leaders (who are now headed to jail) said that the scaling back of oversight was necessary in order to expedite approval for the governor’s signature economic development initiatives. The idea that the Comptroller’s contract review slows down projects is misguided, according to budget watchdogs. The Comptroller has up to 30 days to approve a contract, but on average approves contracts within six days, according to April figures provided by DiNapoli’s office.</p> <p>The absence of an independent oversight body appears to have cleared the way for the massive $800 million bribery scheme that took down close Cuomo associate and friend Joe Percoco, as well as then-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo had heaped praise and responsibility on, and several major donors to Cuomo who were awarded large contracts. The alleged scheme was uncovered by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.</p> <p>More recently, Bart Schwartz, head of Guidepost Solutions LLC, who was hired by Cuomo to probe the contracting process and what might have gone wrong, found significant flaws. In his review of the $417 million awarded to vendors at Buffalo’s SolarCity project and other upstate initiatives, he found that at least $49 million was awarded using a “sloppy process.” The Buffalo News <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/06/15/report-cuomo-outlines-states-sloppy-buffalo-billion-billing-process/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> the details of Schwartz’s report, which the Cuomo administration had failed to make public, but was obtained through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Schwartz was paid as much as $1 million for his investigative work and the Cuomo administration has indicated that it accepted his recommendations for cleaning up contracting processes.</p> <p>While DeFrancisco’s bill has passed the Senate’s finance committee, and the Assembly on Wednesday tweaked its version of the bill to match the Senate’s, legislative leaders offered reserved endorsements of the legislation, and it has yet to be calendared for a floor vote in either house.</p> <p>Both Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have said they support the restoration of pre-auditing powers to the comptroller’s office, but that they are working towards a “three-way agreement” with the governor before advancing the legislation, which is backed by good government groups and many rank-and-file lawmakers.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the governor has been defiant, saying that the powers should not be returned to the Comptroller. Instead, Cuomo in his 2017 policy book proposed expanding the oversight powers of the state inspector general to include procurement at CUNY and SUNY nonprofits, as well as new inspectors general, appointed by and reporting to the executive branch. In the aftermath of the scandal, Cuomo also vowed to create a chief procurement officer in the executive branch.</p> <p>“The proposed legislation does not address the issue and is both burdensome and duplicative,” said Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>David’s statement highlights a key difference between the governor’s proposal and the “clean contracting” legislation backed by the comptroller and government reformers, which emphasizes prevention, making SUNY and CUNY projects subject to the same early scrutiny and standards as other state-funded projects, rather than after-the-fact oversight.</p> <p>“The governor's proposal utterly and totally misses the point because it creates addition inspector generals who are appointed by the governor,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the government reform group ReInvent Albany. “The problem...was bid-rigging; the state contracts were rigged to favor one vendor over the others, and that could have been prevented by independent, pre-contract review.”</p> <p>Representatives from the Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Group, League of Women Voters, and Citizens Budget Commission gathered at the Capitol this past Wednesday, with the blessing of other government reform groups, to call on Albany to pass the legislation -- with or without the governor’s support.</p> <p>“If lawmakers are at all serious about addressing the problems that happened with last year’s bid-rigging scandal they need to support prevention of these crime -- and that means independent pre-contract review,” said Kaehny.</p> <p>They noted that the Legislature is granted power to enact legislation without the governor’s support, first by passing it through both houses. If Cuomo does not then sign or veto the bill, it would automatically become law in 10 days. If the governor vetoes it, the Legislature could independently reconvene to override his veto. More than a majority, two-thirds of each house, must vote in favor in order pass legislation rejected by the governor. As a result, veto overrides are rare; <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/nyregion/legislature-overrides-most-budget-vetoes-but-pataki-says-he-will.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the last time</a> the Legislature successfully overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 2006, during a tumultuous budget negotiation that took place during the last year of Governor George Pataki’s final term, when legislative leaders went to bat over a property tax rebate and cuts to state university funding.&nbsp;</p> <p>Among those who floated the idea of the Legislature passing the bill without the governor’s support is Senator DeFrancisco, who expressed frustration the procurement reform legislation was not calendared earlier.</p> <p>“I try to advocate for it all the time. I know the governor is apoplectic against it and he’d rather have an inspector general that he can control,” DeFrancisco told reporters at the Capitol on June 12. “Hopefully reason will prevail.”</p> <p>When asked to elaborate on the problems with the governor’s proposal, DeFrancisco said, “What he wanted in the budget was to have an independent inspector general, appointed by him to review his contracts. I don’t think you have to be a lawyer, you just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance on anybody. He doesn’t want to lose that control and have that oversight. There’s no other logic why he wouldn’t do it.”</p> <p>Speaker Heastie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, remained coy about the possibility of passing the legislation and reconvening to override a potential gubernatorial veto.</p> <p>"Those are always options, that are there but again you are asking me what you are going to do on failure, I don’t like to report on failure,“ he said, adding that there is always “the summer” and “next session” to pass legislation.</p> <p>“The end of session is a deadline, but it’s not the end of the world if there is ever a need for us to do anything legislatively. We said we’ll come back if the actions in Washington dictate us to come back,” he said. “If we have to come back, the members will come back."</p> <p>Majority Leader Flanagan expressed only slightly more enthusiasm about the idea of procurement reform. Calling the oversight measure “extraordinarily important,” Flanagan said, “I expect we will have procurement reform before the end of the session, whether it’s [legislation proposed by] Senator DeFrancisco or a variation of that bill, I expect we will move in that direction.”</p> <p>The bill has widespread support in the Legislature; minority leaders say they also support the comptroller-backed proposal, which also ends contracting for non-academic purposes by state-controlled non-profit organizations, and transfers all economic development awards to the the Empire State Development Corporation.</p> <p>However, Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Leader Senator Jeff Klein struck a different tone Thursday, saying he opposed DeFrancisco’s legislation. The IDC and GOP have a power-sharing alliance in the Senate. Klein said he intends to introduce a new bill this week, which instead of restoring the comptroller’s powers would appoint an independent investigator to look at claims of misconduct. When pressed, he did not clarify how this proposal differed from the governor’s proposal.</p> <p>“Right now the power of the comptroller is post-audit -- so what I would assume is if there is any problem in the procurement process, you’d be able to spot any problem post-audit. Then why would you need to have pre-audit ability?” said Klein. “I think what we need is a downright investigator -- someone who has the power to investigate the contracting process as it moves forward, to make sure there’s no favoritism, to make sure there’s no bribery.”</p> <p>This past week, the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Peoples-Stokes, also expressed second thoughts about how the legislation could slow the approval for contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses that are awarded grants by the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, or impact healthcare organizations like Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a public not-for-profit that would be subject to increased scrutiny.</p> <p>“The last thing we want is processes to slow down their ability to grow...At first blush, it seems like great legislation, when you delve in there’s some things that need to be tweaked,” said Peoples-Stokes. “I’m grateful there’s some lawyers and a team around here that can help me straighten something out. I think what happened in 2011, that maybe we should takes some looks at, but all these other things.”</p> <p>Earlier this year, a month after talks of a long-awaited pay raise for lawmakers turned sour, legislative leaders seemed ready to take a different approach than they are now, vowing to stand up to the executive branch.</p> <p>In January, during his remarks on opening day of the 2017 session, Flanagan urged his fellow lawmakers to stand up to the governor over the economic development programs, which were marred by the alleged bid-rigging scandal and other accountability problems. Urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils, Flanagan cited the Legislature’s power as a check on the governor.</p> <p>“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said in January. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”</p> <p>In the budget deal passed in April, Cuomo’s signature economic development and infrastructure programs were fully-funded and no new oversight measures were passed.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s6613" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Another bill</a>, sponsored by Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican, would create a searchable “database of deals,” cataloguing all businesses that have been awarded state subsidies -- a system in place in six other states -- has made no headway in the Senate or Assembly.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/24253948132_378146d4bd_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Flanagan Heastie" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Flanagan, Cuomo, Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With just three scheduled days left in the legislative session and the corruption trial of several close associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo for their roles in a bid-rigging scandal scheduled to commence in October, the Legislature has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to prevent such abuses of the procurement process.</p> <p>State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has introduced a comprehensive bill to address the issue, which is the basis for a Senate bill sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, and sister legislation by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat. The legislation would restore authority of the Comptroller to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, particularly for SUNY and CUNY affiliated non-profits, a power that was stripped in 2011.</p> <p>That year, Cuomo and legislative leaders (who are now headed to jail) said that the scaling back of oversight was necessary in order to expedite approval for the governor’s signature economic development initiatives. The idea that the Comptroller’s contract review slows down projects is misguided, according to budget watchdogs. The Comptroller has up to 30 days to approve a contract, but on average approves contracts within six days, according to April figures provided by DiNapoli’s office.</p> <p>The absence of an independent oversight body appears to have cleared the way for the massive $800 million bribery scheme that took down close Cuomo associate and friend Joe Percoco, as well as then-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo had heaped praise and responsibility on, and several major donors to Cuomo who were awarded large contracts. The alleged scheme was uncovered by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.</p> <p>More recently, Bart Schwartz, head of Guidepost Solutions LLC, who was hired by Cuomo to probe the contracting process and what might have gone wrong, found significant flaws. In his review of the $417 million awarded to vendors at Buffalo’s SolarCity project and other upstate initiatives, he found that at least $49 million was awarded using a “sloppy process.” The Buffalo News <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/06/15/report-cuomo-outlines-states-sloppy-buffalo-billion-billing-process/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> the details of Schwartz’s report, which the Cuomo administration had failed to make public, but was obtained through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Schwartz was paid as much as $1 million for his investigative work and the Cuomo administration has indicated that it accepted his recommendations for cleaning up contracting processes.</p> <p>While DeFrancisco’s bill has passed the Senate’s finance committee, and the Assembly on Wednesday tweaked its version of the bill to match the Senate’s, legislative leaders offered reserved endorsements of the legislation, and it has yet to be calendared for a floor vote in either house.</p> <p>Both Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have said they support the restoration of pre-auditing powers to the comptroller’s office, but that they are working towards a “three-way agreement” with the governor before advancing the legislation, which is backed by good government groups and many rank-and-file lawmakers.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the governor has been defiant, saying that the powers should not be returned to the Comptroller. Instead, Cuomo in his 2017 policy book proposed expanding the oversight powers of the state inspector general to include procurement at CUNY and SUNY nonprofits, as well as new inspectors general, appointed by and reporting to the executive branch. In the aftermath of the scandal, Cuomo also vowed to create a chief procurement officer in the executive branch.</p> <p>“The proposed legislation does not address the issue and is both burdensome and duplicative,” said Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>David’s statement highlights a key difference between the governor’s proposal and the “clean contracting” legislation backed by the comptroller and government reformers, which emphasizes prevention, making SUNY and CUNY projects subject to the same early scrutiny and standards as other state-funded projects, rather than after-the-fact oversight.</p> <p>“The governor's proposal utterly and totally misses the point because it creates addition inspector generals who are appointed by the governor,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the government reform group ReInvent Albany. “The problem...was bid-rigging; the state contracts were rigged to favor one vendor over the others, and that could have been prevented by independent, pre-contract review.”</p> <p>Representatives from the Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Group, League of Women Voters, and Citizens Budget Commission gathered at the Capitol this past Wednesday, with the blessing of other government reform groups, to call on Albany to pass the legislation -- with or without the governor’s support.</p> <p>“If lawmakers are at all serious about addressing the problems that happened with last year’s bid-rigging scandal they need to support prevention of these crime -- and that means independent pre-contract review,” said Kaehny.</p> <p>They noted that the Legislature is granted power to enact legislation without the governor’s support, first by passing it through both houses. If Cuomo does not then sign or veto the bill, it would automatically become law in 10 days. If the governor vetoes it, the Legislature could independently reconvene to override his veto. More than a majority, two-thirds of each house, must vote in favor in order pass legislation rejected by the governor. As a result, veto overrides are rare; <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/nyregion/legislature-overrides-most-budget-vetoes-but-pataki-says-he-will.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the last time</a> the Legislature successfully overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 2006, during a tumultuous budget negotiation that took place during the last year of Governor George Pataki’s final term, when legislative leaders went to bat over a property tax rebate and cuts to state university funding.&nbsp;</p> <p>Among those who floated the idea of the Legislature passing the bill without the governor’s support is Senator DeFrancisco, who expressed frustration the procurement reform legislation was not calendared earlier.</p> <p>“I try to advocate for it all the time. I know the governor is apoplectic against it and he’d rather have an inspector general that he can control,” DeFrancisco told reporters at the Capitol on June 12. “Hopefully reason will prevail.”</p> <p>When asked to elaborate on the problems with the governor’s proposal, DeFrancisco said, “What he wanted in the budget was to have an independent inspector general, appointed by him to review his contracts. I don’t think you have to be a lawyer, you just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance on anybody. He doesn’t want to lose that control and have that oversight. There’s no other logic why he wouldn’t do it.”</p> <p>Speaker Heastie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, remained coy about the possibility of passing the legislation and reconvening to override a potential gubernatorial veto.</p> <p>"Those are always options, that are there but again you are asking me what you are going to do on failure, I don’t like to report on failure,“ he said, adding that there is always “the summer” and “next session” to pass legislation.</p> <p>“The end of session is a deadline, but it’s not the end of the world if there is ever a need for us to do anything legislatively. We said we’ll come back if the actions in Washington dictate us to come back,” he said. “If we have to come back, the members will come back."</p> <p>Majority Leader Flanagan expressed only slightly more enthusiasm about the idea of procurement reform. Calling the oversight measure “extraordinarily important,” Flanagan said, “I expect we will have procurement reform before the end of the session, whether it’s [legislation proposed by] Senator DeFrancisco or a variation of that bill, I expect we will move in that direction.”</p> <p>The bill has widespread support in the Legislature; minority leaders say they also support the comptroller-backed proposal, which also ends contracting for non-academic purposes by state-controlled non-profit organizations, and transfers all economic development awards to the the Empire State Development Corporation.</p> <p>However, Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Leader Senator Jeff Klein struck a different tone Thursday, saying he opposed DeFrancisco’s legislation. The IDC and GOP have a power-sharing alliance in the Senate. Klein said he intends to introduce a new bill this week, which instead of restoring the comptroller’s powers would appoint an independent investigator to look at claims of misconduct. When pressed, he did not clarify how this proposal differed from the governor’s proposal.</p> <p>“Right now the power of the comptroller is post-audit -- so what I would assume is if there is any problem in the procurement process, you’d be able to spot any problem post-audit. Then why would you need to have pre-audit ability?” said Klein. “I think what we need is a downright investigator -- someone who has the power to investigate the contracting process as it moves forward, to make sure there’s no favoritism, to make sure there’s no bribery.”</p> <p>This past week, the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Peoples-Stokes, also expressed second thoughts about how the legislation could slow the approval for contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses that are awarded grants by the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, or impact healthcare organizations like Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a public not-for-profit that would be subject to increased scrutiny.</p> <p>“The last thing we want is processes to slow down their ability to grow...At first blush, it seems like great legislation, when you delve in there’s some things that need to be tweaked,” said Peoples-Stokes. “I’m grateful there’s some lawyers and a team around here that can help me straighten something out. I think what happened in 2011, that maybe we should takes some looks at, but all these other things.”</p> <p>Earlier this year, a month after talks of a long-awaited pay raise for lawmakers turned sour, legislative leaders seemed ready to take a different approach than they are now, vowing to stand up to the executive branch.</p> <p>In January, during his remarks on opening day of the 2017 session, Flanagan urged his fellow lawmakers to stand up to the governor over the economic development programs, which were marred by the alleged bid-rigging scandal and other accountability problems. Urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils, Flanagan cited the Legislature’s power as a check on the governor.</p> <p>“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said in January. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”</p> <p>In the budget deal passed in April, Cuomo’s signature economic development and infrastructure programs were fully-funded and no new oversight measures were passed.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s6613" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Another bill</a>, sponsored by Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican, would create a searchable “database of deals,” cataloguing all businesses that have been awarded state subsidies -- a system in place in six other states -- has made no headway in the Senate or Assembly.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>