Are the Mayor’s Office and NYC DoITT Deciding Together Which Ivalua Contract Records to Release or Withhold?
After 10 months, New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) admitted it had found 4,294 emails that were relevant to our public records request concerning the $30.5M Ivalua eProcurement Contract. But giving us the emails would “create an undue burden.”
Nine days later, on June 19, 2019, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) said it was closing a separate request “because this agency does not have the records requested.” Yet, there are 75 references to the agency in the Ivalua contract and MOCS is “the City’s central compliance and oversight agency for procurement.”
Now that we have filed new Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests with both agencies, the two agencies told us they will respond to our request on the same day, November 14th.
Perhaps there is a simple explanation for this – maybe it’s just a coincidence. We find it curious based on what we currently know about NYC-Ivalua eProcurement contract boondoggle.
What Might the Mayor’s Office and DoITT be Hiding?
There are growing concerns that NYC’s purchase of software to allow city agencies to buy items more cost-effectively has itself become an example of how not to buy things. The company in question, Ivalua, is an inexperienced French firm hired by NYC in 2016 to custom-build software that still doesn’t work as promised. Costs to NYC taxpayers are approaching $47M. And, city officials even passed on the opportunity to claw back $25 million after Ivalua’s failure to even have a design after two years.
By contrast, the City of Dallas bought off-the-shelf eProcurement software that operates in largely the same way for under $50,000 – one-tenth of one percent what NYC is paying.
This raises serious questions about the specific role the two agencies played in awarding Ivalua this contract in the first place, and then approving subsequent change to the contract.
Delays and Denials: A Timeline
- Then-NYC DoITT Commissioner Anne Roest signed a $30.5 million contract with Ivalua in May 2016. By late December 2018, most of the original $30.5 million had been spent with little to show for it. On January 1, 2019, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services took over the contract.
- DoITT General Counsel Michael Pastor sent C&BP a letter In June 2019 saying that turning over 4,294 emails his agency had located in response to our request would “create an undue burden on DoITT staff” because they would need to be read and redacted. Pastor declared our request for documents closed.
- Rather than take the agencies to court, we filed new records requests with DoITT and the Mayor’s Office on August 23, 2019.
- On September 5th, the Mayor’s Office wrote C&BP that it couldn’t process our request because we didn’t provide “enough information to identify the records.” On September 9th, we made it even clearer.
- Except for the DoITT request, which asks for other documents, we’re asking for emails to and from the same city officials.
- On September 30th, DoITT sent us an email that stated we could “expect a response on or about Thursday, November 14, 2019.” On October 16th, the Mayor’s Office for Contract Services emailed us that we could expect a response on the same date.
What Does Freedom of Information Mean?
Freedom of Information means different things to different people. The old-school definition means that the public has a right to most documents that are created by officials whose work and salaries are paid by taxpayers. A newer version, it seems, means that public officials have the obligation to protect a government agency from possible embarrassment by hiding documents — unless ordered by a court to release them.
Will the Mayor’s Office and DoITT take the latter path?
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Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog holding government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.