In a startling letter to key city commissioners, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris has ordered an immediate 60-day suspension starting Monday on all work and expenditures on the 911 upgrade — officially known as the Emergency Communications Transformation Program.
The letter also notes that City Hall is asking the Department of Investigation “to conduct an independent review of what transpired in recent years.”
The city has found “additional significant and longstanding technical design, systems integration, and project management risks and issues that necessitate immediate corrective action,” Shorris said in the letter.
The News received an exclusive copy of the missive, in which city officials and outside experts are ordered to complete a top-down review of the project, which was expected to be finished by 2008.
Shorris was asked if the DOI’s involvement meant that he is concerned about problems that go deeper than just massive cost overruns or mismanagement.
The suspension order is a stunning admission by the de Blasio administration that the 911 overhaul is more troubled than officials have been willing to admit.
“This project could be out of control” for both costs and delays, Shorris told The News .
Launched in the summer of 2005 at a projected cost of $1.3 billion, the 911 overhaul was the signature public safety initiative of the Bloomberg era.
Its aim was to centralize outdated call-and-dispatch operations for police, fire and emergency medical services into a single, state-of-the art computerized operation, complete with a newly constructed backup call center in the Bronx.
If something has gone on, then there has to be accountability.
A subsequent audit by then-city Controller John Liu documented millions of dollars in overbillings by one of the key contractors, Hewlett-Packard.
More problems have emerged since de Blasio took office.
Less than a week ago, for example, Shorris learned that 22 telecom sites that were supposed to be established all over the city as hubs for upgraded 911 radio communications were not ready to support the new equipment; it was previously thought they were.
“Those rooms needed a ton of work and could delay completion of the project by another 2 to 2½ years,” Shorris said.
In March, the former head of the NYPD’s 911 center, Assistant Chief Charles (Chuck) Dowd, was suddenly bounced by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton following a meeting about foulups in the 911 system. Dowd was transferred to the Transit Division, later placed on modified assignment, and has since filed for retirement.
In 2010, Dowd and several other high-ranking officers were reprimanded by the NYPD for accepting “valuable gifts” from Verizon, when the telecommunications giant was vying for part of the original 911 contract.
In the letter to Bratton, incoming Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro and other senior city officials, Shorris not only suspended all work, but he also transferred the project’s control from the Office of Citywide Emergency Communications to the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and its incoming commissioner, Anne Roest.
The letter specifies that “without the specific approval” of (Roest):
- “No work that would result in additional expenditures against existing contracts may move forward.”
- “No major system implementation or major procedural changes may be implemented.”
Roest is heading a new team of city officials and industry experts who will “conduct a full-scale review and validation of the project’s scope, schedule, budget and governance,” and propose within 60 days what the city should do, the letter said.
The city’s public safety chiefs quickly endorsed the new course.
“This review process will be instrumental in helping us build a system that meets the needs of the city and keeps New Yorkers safe,” Bratton said in a statement.
Nigro said: “The new system’s problems have been well-documented, and we must get this right. The best way to do that is to temporarily halt the project, review it thoroughly and discover the best way to move forward.”