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2011-04-07

Juan Gonzalez Wins Prestigious Polk Award for Exposing "Biggest Scandal of Entire Bloomberg Era"

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Today Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez receives the George Polk Award for Commentary for his columns in the New York Daily News that exposed a major scandal of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s CityTime program. The move to a computerized payroll system was set to cost $60 million in 2000, but grew to cost $700 million. "It’s actually the tip of the iceberg of what’s happening, I believe, across America, which is that governments are increasingly computerizing their operations to get rid of public employees,” says Gonzalez. “But the systems never deliver what they promise, always cost much more, and are often filled with fraud in the very process. So taxpayer dollars are basically going to private industry. And many of these companies are former defense or are defense contractors that are involved, that have now switched to computerizing government as part of their market operations.” [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I am in the presence of greatness, even without these awards being given out today, as we turn to the George Polk Awards for journalism, some of the highest in journalism. The awards will be presented this afternoon. Juan Gonzalez, co-host of Democracy Now!, is receiving, once again, another George Polk Award for commentary for his columns [1/13/10, 2/12/10, 3/19/10, 3/26/10, daybut_mike_sits_on_ha.html">6/4/10, 8/13/10, 9/29/10, 10/13/10, 12/16/10, 12/17/10, .html">12/21/10]
in the New York Daily News that exposed a major scandal about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s CityTime program. Juan, tell us again about this exposé.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, basically what it was is, more than a decade ago, the City of New York decided that it wanted to create a new computerized payroll and timekeeping system, basically geared to making sure that city workers were not stealing time or punching in for someone else. They were going to come up with a new age system with hand scanners for employees and all of this other stuff. And they hired these companies from outside to develop the system. It started out as a $60 million system in 2000, and it ballooned, without anybody knowing about it, to over $700 million. And at 10 years later, not even half the employees were of the city were on the system.

And I began writing about this army of consultants, about 300 of them, who were being paid an average salary of $400,000 a year. Some were getting $650,000, $500,000. And the thing just kept ballooning in cost. No one knew how to get it under cost. It turns out that part of the reason why the costs were spiraling, because there was basically a criminal operation of private consultants that were creating phantom companies, false time sheets, wiring the money to banks in Russia that were known for money laundering. They had a whole network that were basically stealing the money, and the city officials in charge were not doing anything about it. So there have already been six indictments of people. There’s — an investigation is continuing. It’s been the biggest scandal in the 10 years of the Bloomberg administration.

But it’s actually the tip of the iceberg of what’s happening, I believe, across America, which is that governments are increasingly computerizing their operations to get rid of public employees, but in the process, bringing in all these private sector people who promise you the world in a new computer system, but the systems never deliver what they promise, always cost much more, and are often filled with fraud in the very process. So taxpayer dollars are basically going to private industry. And many of these companies are former defense or are defense contractors that are involved, that have now switched to computerizing government as part of their market operations.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, congratulations on being honored today. It should be following a Pulitzer Prize for you for covering — exposing the health effects of the attacks at 9/11.

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