Bloomberg aide has big plans to privatize some New York government functions
By ADAM LISBERG
One of Mayor Bloomberg's top aides has big plans to privatize some New York government functions to save money - but says he wants to give city workers a chance to do those jobs first.
The unions don't believe him.
"He can say what he wants to say," said Harry Nespoli, head of the Municipal Labor Committee, which represents 90 unions for city workers. "The goal is to eliminate public employees."
Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith made a name for himself as a government cost-cutter in the 1990s, when he was mayor of Indianapolis.
He started out promising to outsource all sorts of government functions, but came to believe city workers could compete against private companies to give taxpayers the best deal.
Goldsmith called the idea "managed competition" and bragged in his book "The 21st Century City" how Indianapolis mechanics were able to outperform their private-sector competitors.
Yet when the city approached private companies last week about leasing out its 13,500-vehicle fleet, outsourcing maintenance was one of the ideas - and the union for city mechanics didn't know it was coming.
"There's no communication between the unions that may be affected and the people that are planning it," said Joseph Colangelo, head of SEIU Local 246.
Goldsmith insisted city workers will get the right to bid for vehicle maintenance and other elements of his plan to cut $70 million in fleet costs over five years.
The unions don't trust him.
"Trust me? I don't think they can decide on me," he said. "I hope they will trust me enough to compete for the work rather than just let it go out."
Ironically, New York has had forms of managed competition in place since the 1990s, because former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a fan of Goldsmith's innovations.
He let city workers bid against private contractors to maintain sewage plants and install street signs, among other tasks.
The results have been mixed.
Michael DeMarco, head of the traffic sign workers' union, said his members don't get to bid for enough work - since contractors routinely hang signs improperly that his members have to fix later.
"The citizens of the city are paying double because we have to go in and do that work," DeMarco said. "I'm trying to get work back, because I know we can do it for cheaper."
At the Department of Environmental Protection earlier managed competition efforts fizzled, but Commissioner Cas Holloway is trying again.
"Nobody knows the equipment better than us," said James Tucciarelli, head of the sewage workers' union, which is waiting for a decision on a bid to replace pumps at a Harlem plant. "It's great for the taxpayer, and it's a great incentive for the workers."
Private contractors are no guarantee against waste, as the CityTime payroll scandal and the bloated project to modernize 911 show.
A state audit last year of 22 Department of Transportation contracts found none of them had any written evaluations to show they were cheaper than using city workers.
In fact, the audit says three of those contracts were explicitly found not to be cost-effective - but DOT kept using them. (DOT disputed the findings.)
On the other hand, every New Yorker has a story of dealing with a lazy city worker protected by union rules.
Goldsmith's job is to weigh contractors against city workers. But one side believes he has his thumb on the scale.
March 21, 2011.