In City Contracts, No Room for Whistleblowers

April 04, 2012 at 4:00 am

New York City Councilmember and comptroller candidate Daniel Garodnick says private employees working on city contracts are not protected under whistleblower legislation. Photo courtesy of New York City Council.

Since 1996, the city’s annual spending on contracts with private companies has ballooned from $5.7 billion to $10.5 billion per year. The city’s budget this year lists 17,000 of these contracts (1/7  of the budget).  Several major scandals, most notably the multi-million dollar CityTime disgrace, begs the question whether there is enough oversight to prevent disastrous amounts of fraud and waste.

And now, New York City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick (D), who announced his candidacy for City Comptroller on April 3 (the very birthday of the notoriously corrupt NYC politician Boss Tweed), says there’s another serious issue: employees at private companies working on city contracts are virtually unprotected if they blow the whistle on corruption.

“We were doing some research about city contract efficiency when we saw there was a big loophole,” said Garodnick, who worked as a litigator before entering office in 2005.

Although the laws are notoriously muddled, there is complex “patchwork” of local, state and federal laws designed to protect public and private employees from being fired, sued or in other ways retaliated against if they report waste or fraud. However, it seems when private employees cross into the public sphere, those protections dissolve.

At the end of March, Garodnick introduced a new bill to protect non-city employees who work on contracts worth more than $50,000.

Because of the change in the way the city does business,  protecting private employees working on public contracts is crucial.

Last November, City Limits reported, “under the current [mayoral] administration, there has been a steady shift in the way private companies are being used by the city. It’s no longer just about putting the delivery of individual government services — say, fixing roads or providing school food — in the hands of private companies. These days, tech firms are being hired to perform huge and hugely complex IT projects that not only cost an enormous sum but raise issues around how dependent the city might become on these high-tech wizards.”

More news supporting Garodnick’s bill came out April 2, when the New York Daily News reported that over the past two years, 90 percent of the 27,538 allegations of wrongdoing against city employees, which the Department of Investigations looked into, were brought forward by anonymous whistleblowers.

To Garodnick, the Daily News article “says that people are afraid of losing their jobs, and that they’re taking advantage of whistleblower laws where they exist.”

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