Numbers Can't Tell You Everything

CityTime scandal adding up to be a great mess for the Bloomberg administration

There’s an old saying that figures don’t lie but liars can figure.

The latest revelations in the City Time scandal show that these words may apply to some of the people who have worked on this project.

CityTime is the computerized timekeeping program, which goes back to the Giuliani administration. The purpose of this initiative was to keep close tabs on the hours worked and the salaries earned by city employees. But the project has been racked by scandal.

The most recent development: the private consultant hired to run this project, Gerard Denault, was fired for failing to record his own work.  City Comptroller John Liu was indignant, telling the Daily News:  “This is the person in charge of keeping track of New York City employees but at the same he was not keeping track of himself” 

The Bloomberg administration has certainly embraced data and computerization -- it comes with the times we live in. They love statistics and think everything, from students and teachers to tens of thousands of city workers, can be quantified and qualified by numbers.

But that may need a second opinion. Does character count for nothing in employing consultants or city officials? Or do you simply feed a name into a computer and decide whether the numbers for judging competence and character add up?

The fired consultant, Denault, made $540,000 a year as manager of this project. Denault’s employer, Science Applications International Corp., returned $2.4 million in fees after admitting it didn’t have a clue as to how many hours this consultant worked. Denault, who hasn’t been charged with a crime, strongly denied any wrongdoing, according to The New York Times.

Sometimes, when you hear stories like this, you wonder whether some people regard the city government as a cash cow. to be milked as frequently as needed, rather than the servant of our citizens.

Originally, the CityTime project was supposed to cost  $68 million. The current estimate of cost is $740 million.

Among the many casualties of the still unfolding scandal are Karen Shaffer, an assistant commissioner in the Department for the Aging, who has been demoted after she admitted falsifying time sheets and collecting $22,000 that she had not earned.  She admitted she was paid for 290 hours of work she had not performed.

Dick Dadey of Citizens Union told me: “This is a story that keeps getting worse. It seems as though no one is minding the store. It’s ironic that, in a project which is supposed to monitor city employees and the work they put in,  people are being paid for work not done. As a tv personality once said: ‘You can’t make this stuff up!’ "

The lesson so far is that computers or machines can cheat, especially if the input from human beings is untrustworthy. Human judgment and character are still essential in running a business or governing a city.

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