The Chief
December 13, 2002

Mayor’s Top Aide: Must Reform F.D.

Also Blasts PBA

By Deidre McFadyen

Mayor Bloomberg’s top deputy Dec. 7 said that the city intended to go ahead with plans to close eight firehouses, calling the decision to delay the closing until a panel studied the issue “a political punt.”

Deputy Mayor Marc V. Shaw said, “We punted on it at the end of the day” in the face of heavy political opposition, but continued, We all agree we’re still going to have to do it.”

FDNY Reform-Proof?

Mr. Shaw, speaking at a daylong conference on the city’s fiscal woes organized by the Citizen’s Budget Commission, singled out the Fire Department as a bastion of inefficiency. Every effort to make the agency more efficient over the past 20 to 30 years has been a “total failure,” he said. “It’s an area ripe for productivity savings, but I think it’s going to take a major change in the culture of the Fire Department and the politics in New York City,” he said.

Offering its own ideas for making government more efficient, the CBC issued a report last week that claimed the city could save nearly $500 million by requiring its work force, excluding Teachers and the uniformed services, to put in a 40-hour week.

The business-backed budget watchdog also urged the city to overhaul special education, reduce unnecessary overtime and hire more civilians in the Police Department, streamline procurement, and conserve energy at city agencies. If the city implemented these five measures, the CBC said, it could save $1.2 billion without raising taxes or cutting services.

“At a time when New York City’s taxes are being raised, at a significant cost to the city’s economic competitiveness, and municipal services are being cut, to the detriment of city residents. The city has an obligation to ensure that it is operating as efficiently as possible,” said CBC President Diana Fortuna.

The CBC’s recommendations come as the Bloomberg administration is working to close a $1 billion deficit that has opened in the current fiscal year and a $6.4 billion deficit projected for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2003. Last month’s property tax hike of 18.5 percent, coupled with $780 million in new agency cuts, is expected to leave the city with a surplus of roughly $500 million for this fiscal year and shrink next year’s projected deficit by half.

The Bloomberg administration responded favorably to the report. In fact, it has already championed two of the proposals – a longer workweek and changing Police Officers’ schedules – through neither has been implemented due to union opposition. “We are pleased that the Citizens’ Budget Commission agrees with many of the productivity improvements that the Mayor proposed,” said mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowits.

Using the threat of massive layoffs as a prod, Mr. Bloomberg last month asked the municipal unions to come up with $270 million in productivity savings in the current fiscal year and $600 million in the nest.

Of the city’s 80,000 unionized civilian employees, excluding Teachers, the CBC report noted that less than 13 percent work a 40-hour week, which is the standard for their Federal counterparts and the majority of state and local government workers nationwide. The vast majority – nearly 84 percent – work 35 hours a week.

Push 40-hour Week

The city could get the same work done with 8,000 fewer workers by mandating a 40-hour workweek, the report said. For the city to save $498 million, these workers – unlike Librarians and Teachers in the last round of citywide collective bargaining – would not be awarded a commensurate pay hike for the longer hours. The change would require union approval.

Inefficiencies in Police Department staffing were also highlighted in the report. The CBC estimated that the city could save $117 million annually by not using cops on overtime to perform duties that can be scheduled in advance. Under Mayor Giuliani, NYPD overtime skyrocketed, from $114 million in fiscal year 1995 to $353 million in fiscal year 2001.

In a proposal long pushed by District Council 37, the CBC called on the Police Department to implement an aggressive civilianization program. By replacing 1,600 officers at desk jobs with lower-paid civilians, the city could save up to $67 million annually, the report said.

No Rush to Civilianize

The Bloomberg administration, however, has chosen the opposition tack, reducing the number of clericals, from 800 to 334, that it had planned to hire this fiscal year to free up cops in patrol precincts or on transit or public housing beats. The NYPD has yet to touch cops at coveted desk jobs at 1 Police Plaza.

Mr. Shaw said the Police Department trimmed its civilian hiring because it did not want to further reduce its uniformed headcount. “The only way that you get budgetary dollar savings out of the civilianization program is if you save on the hiring on police officers,” he said. “We’re reducing the number of police officers through attrition by 1,900. I don’t see any desire on anybody’s part right now in the city to push that envelope further.”

Another idea the CBC claims would provide more rational staffing at the NYPD involves the 35 minutes set aside in each cop’s shift for changing uniforms. By reducing that period to 15 minutes and thus requiring officers to make more appearances, the city would create the equivalent of 10 more working days per officer.

A Public Employment Relations Board arbitration panel floated a similar idea this summer as a way to give cops an additional pay raise, but stiff opposition from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association based on members’ reaction led the arbitrators to scrap the idea.

‘PBA Not Rational’

“The PBA made a decision to say, “We don’t want to be productive in New York City right now even if you give us 100 percent of the money back,’” said, Mr. Shaw, who added that the city hoped to revisit the issue in the future. He said that the city planned to negotiate first with DC 37 and other municipal unions and “hopefully come back to the PBA when they’re a little more rational.”

Special education was another area identified as ripe for savings. The budget watchdog contended that the city funnels too many students into special education and then puts too many of these students into the most restricted – and costly – settings. Proposing changes that would save the city $267 million, the group argued that the current program, which costs $18,919 annually per student on average, does not succeed, since only one of six special education students graduate with a high school diploma.

The CBC noted that New York City classifies 11.6 percent of its students as needing special education, compared with the median of 10.8 percent for large urban school districts. The group said that the city continues to classify too many minority kids as needing special education for emotional disturbances.

The CBC also urged the city to integrate more special education students into regular classrooms for a least part of the day. The city currently places 44 percent of special education pupils in segregated classrooms for the whole day, more than doubles the national figure, according to the report.

The city could save another $47 million by instituting energy conservation policies the report said. The CBC said that the Mayor’s Office should assume responsibility for energy conservation which is now the purview of each city agency. It also suggested offering incentives to agencies and individual workers to conserve energy and doubling annual spending on capital projects to save energy.