Liu rejects Pelham Parkway 911 call center contract

The 911 Call Center currently under construction off Pelham Parkway and Stillwell Avenue could experience a major delay.

Comptroller John Liu rejected a $286 million contract for technology, computers and phone systems for the building. Liu rejected the contract with Northtrop Grumman, requested for approval by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, citing concerns that the bulk of the contract is allotted to unspecified “time and expense costs”.

According to Liu’s office, this could allow outside consultants to bill on an hourly basis and collect exorbitant fees, as what happened recently in the CityTime scandal, a project to create an electronic time-keeping system for city employees.

Jason Post, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg’s office, said that the contract for the technical infrastructure of the Bronx’s 911 Call Center, part of the Emergency Communications Transformation Program, does not leave much open ended. He claimed that the work in the contract would not be completed on an hourly basis.

Nevertheless, Councilman Jimmy Vacca said all appropriate measures must be taken to ensure that there are no massive cost overruns at the 911 Call Center facility. The purpose of the two new centers is to integrate all emergency calls.

“From the very inception of this project, I warned that cost controls must be put in place,” Vacca said. “All too often capital projects in our city start at a specified cost but by the time the shovel hits the ground those costs are on another planet. Because this project is already budgeted at $1 billion, to have overruns of any type when the city is in a fiscal crisis and threatening to reduce sanitation and fire services would be totally unacceptable to taxpayers.”

Liu warned of significant cost overruns in a letter to Mayor Bloomberg dated Monday, January 3. In the letter, Liu said he rejected the contract because the time and expense billing arrangement does not encourage timely and efficient completion.

Also, there are multiple layers of subcontractors and significant cost overruns in the Brooklyn call center project, which should have been fully operational at the end of 2010 and is now overbudget.

Liu stated that he believes additional measures should be put into place to prevent waste and fraud by leaving the final costs too open ended.

Post said that the mayor’s office will work to answer Liu’s questions, but would like to keep the original contract. He also said that he does not expect that the building of the center’s structure, which is already underway, would be affected by the contract for its technology.

He did not, however, rule out the possibility of a delay in the building’s construction, which is separate from the technological infrastructure.

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