Sunday, May 10, 2015

Budget Insanity at NYCERS

On March 12, 2015 the NYCERS Trustees approved the NYCERS FY-2016 administrative budget. It was Diane D'Alessandro's tenth annual adiministrative budget proposal as executive director.

The key numbers are listed in the table below. For comparison purposes I added FY-2006, my last budget as executive director, and FY-1996, NYCERS's last budget under the city's budget structure. The 1996 budget was draconian to say the least. You can see from the table that the NYCERS's budget has increased by 43% over the last ten years or 4.1%/year.

NYCERS: Admin. Budget Over the Years

FT Positions 401342155
PT Positions 35 130
PS $30.2M $20.0M$6.2M
OTPS $19.4M $14.7M$2.6M
Sub-total $49.6M $34.7M$8.8M
Fringe $8.2M $4.1M$0
Total $57.8M $38.8M$8.8M

What is extraordinary about this budget is that it is the beginning of a delusional spending spree on IT upgrades. It is being called the "Legacy Replacement Project". It proposes to spend $132M over a five year period, staring with $500,000 to be paid to Gartner, Inc. and $1.75M to other consultants to be named later. At the meeting D'Alessandro indicated that she was going to pay $310,000 to an outside firm to write a RFP for this "grand" project. Listed below is the five year spending bonanza.

  • 2016 - $ 2.25M
  • 2017 - $ 9.91M
  • 2018 - $27.86M
  • 2019 - $46.00M
  • 2020 - $46.24M

To OMB's credit they complained about the $310,000 RFP. The trustees, however, approved this budget in spite of making noise about the long term cost of the project.

You would think, considering how well funded that the NYCERS budget is, that the NYCERS staff would be able to write their own RFP. But D'Alessandro got that part right, her staff can't do the job.

Of course, without the results of the RFP where did the $132M amount come from.

In fact over the last ten years D'Alessandro should have been standardizing NYCERS applications on a current client/server platform using a relational database system. This process was underway in 2005 when she first appointed. But thankfully the old CICS/VSAM systems were so well made that they have survived long after the point when they should have been retired. Thank God for small favors.

D'Alessandro, unfortunately, was appointed to her current job in 2005 without any prior relevant experience by Martha Stark and a bunch of compromised trustees. D'Alessandro had never managed anyone. She is not a lawyer, nor an accountant, nor an actuary. She had never worked for a pension system and she had absolutely no IT experience. What she was and still is, is grossly incompetent.

To make the situation worse, the current IT director was working as the NYCERS call center manager when D'Alessandro moved her to the agency's IT division in 2007. At that point she had no IT experience either. Six months later D'Alessandro makes her the director of the IT division. It reminds of when Rudy put a key punch salesman in charge of DoITT. She is as incompetent as D'Alessandro.

D'Alessandro submitted a five page justifying her budget proposal. It is a classic example of using a lot of words to create a fog, lots of hand waving and saying nothing except give me $132M. I actually don't think D'Alessandro wrote the summary. Five pages is far too much work for D'Alessandro. It looks like a cut and paste job from some marketing crap.

This is the justification for $132M.


In a continued effort to provide greater operational efficiency, enhanced customer service and improved quality and production, NYCERS is proposing to undertake a major information technology (IT) and business system replacement project that will streamline and consolidate all applications and functions into a single data repository for common use throughout the agency.

The project which will be known as the Legacy Replacement Project (LRP) will be conducted in three stages over a minimum of five years. The LRP will require a commitment of resources to be phased in over that time.

In order to ensure the success of the LRP, NYCERS is proposing two associated projects including a communications project designed to accommodate expanded electronic interaction with clients and a change management project to address staff training, coaching, and leadership development needs.

You can always spot a IT disaster from the start. It has a long time frame and they don't tell you what they are going to do in the first week of the project, the second week of the project, third week of the project,... You get the picture. Oh yeah, it will also cost a lot of money. I will guarantee you that this project will fail.

When I left NYCERS in 2005, NYCERS had one of the best IT departments in the city. The agency had:

  1. between 60 and 65 IT professionals on staff
  2. an integrated mainframe (VSE) and a network system (Windows Server 2003)
  3. all major work operations automated running under CICS using VSAM and DB2
  4. an advanced web site which allowed members and retirees to view their own specific data.
  5. an imaging/workflow system covering all paper based applications for all members and pensioners.
  6. a dedicated document scanning division
  7. a tested computer disaster recovery plan (we were researching a full business recovery plan and site)
  8. a standardized accounting package running on the network supporting both pension and administrative operations
  9. a nightly backup process of all files including the Exchange Server
  10. a project to upgrade major applications to DB2.
  11. an advanced Avaya based call center with its own backup PBX.
  12. a modern customer service center with its own integrated queuing system
  13. an on-site fully equipped training center.
  14. a proximity card system for both time keeping and security.
  15. a separate network system for the security and a full camera subsystem.

Returning to the executive summary, it is not only short on details about the project but it also has a great deal of deceptive information. The following are a few quotes out of D'Alessandro's write-up along with some clarifying comments.


Over the past nine years, NYCERS has made significant infrastructure improvements.

Document Management

NYCERS continues to ensure the preservation and security of all vital records and to promote an environmentally sound approach to document management. This effort includes the incorporation of all incoming documents into the NYCEWORK system in an electronic format and the ongoing digitization of historical paper documents.

In 2014, NYCERS prepared, scanned and indexed over 200,000 incoming documents and converted over 1 million historical records into digital images. Since the inception of the document management project, over 38 million paper records have been imaged, saving approximately $600,000 in document storage fees.

From this quote you would think that document management was introduced during the last few years. In fact, it was there when D'Alessandro walked in the door. The system in place at that time used a software package called Staffware. It was working well but it was being stressed by the volume of documents that NYCERS was dealing with. It actually continued to function up until 2014 when a new software package, Filenet/NYCEWORK, was finally put into production. I wonder where the $600,000 in saved storage fees came from?

Unfortunately, while Staffware needed to be either upgraded or replaced, Filenet runs significantly slower than Staffware did. That in turn has created incremental delays at every step of every process in the agency. It has created havoc with the production levels for all major functions in the agency.

This is an example of a mismanaged project being put into production so that management doesn't have to say it made a mistake. We saw this problem with the CityTime project.

While we are talking about mistakes, there have been two major IT disasters at NYCERS in the last nine years costing millions of dollars. One was the DB2 project and the other is the infamous Long Island City disaster recovery site. At least when the DB2 project was cancelled, the bleeding stopped. The LIC-DR project is a never ending cancer.

When I left NYCERS in 2005, the IT department with the help of two consultants was slowly converting over our major VSAM files to a DB2 relational database platform. We had already had two significant systems running under DB2 but there was a long term need to shift all major files over to the relational model. Two months after I left the project was cancelled. Subsequently NYCERS entered into a contract with IBM/Blue-Phoenix to do the DB2 conversion. That project dragged on for years, cost millions, and eventually failed. NYCERS even tried to sue IBM but with very little relief.

Business Continuity

The Long Island City business recovery site enables NYCERS to restore business operations and critical applications in the event of a disaster. This ensures the sustainability of operations and reduces the potential for data loss. Business recovery time is within four hours and the data recovery point is within 30 minutes.

From this quote you would conclude LIC-DR is a success. That is not true in any sense.

The lease on the LIC-DR project was signed in 2006 and NYCERS still does not have a Certificate of Occupancy for the site. I have previously written about this mess. It is not clear what is the legal status of having employees on that site.

For the record, the rent at LIC-DR is $530,000 for FY-2016 plus another $400,000 for other ancillary lease charges. The site has serious water leakage, asbestos, and plumbing problem. The lease comes up for renewal in the spring of 2016. Let's see what the decision will be then.

And in this season of delusion, NYCERS is planning a tertiary disaster recovery site. They even started buying hardware ($250,000 in FY-2015) for this mythical site. Some people just don't get it.

Business Process Automation

NYCERS continues to streamline business processes and leverage infrastructure investments to improve service delivery. As a result, NYCERS has achieved efficiencies in areas including loans and survivor benefits. On-line loan processing time has been reduced from 10 business days to five business days.

In this quote D'Alessandro appears to claim to have automated loans and survivor benefits in the last nine years and that the turnaround time on loans has been dropped from 10 to 5 days. Actually in 2005 both loans and survivor benefits were fully automated. The loans were the first applications automated in the early 1980's and also the first application to be integrated into the imaging/workflow system in 2002. In 2005, if you filed a loan application by Tuesday, NYCERS mailed a loan check to you that Friday. You would wonder why D'Alessandro would have made the above statement.

While all this craziness was going on with the great IT upgrade, D'Alessandro also threw in a request for 12 new employees with salaries of $720,000. No explanation was given. This was on top of 6 new employees in FY-2015, again with no explanation. Since 2013 the full time staff has gone from 372 to 401 and part time staff from 12 to 35. Why are there back logs with production work? Can you imagine what A.C.S. could do with that kind personnel increase.