After a comprehensive review, new database will provide dramatically increased transparency and oversight, and improve project management to save time and money on City construction projects.
NEW YORK, NY — The City Council voted Tuesday to approve legislation sponsored by City Council Member Brad Lander, in partnership with the de Blasio Administration, to create a taskforce to implement a public, searchable capital projects database. The new tracking system will enable increased public transparency, oversight over spending and timelines, and improve project management on City projects including schools, parks, streets, bridges, sewers, libraries, climate resilience, and other City construction projects.
This legislation will codify the increased amount of information about all City capital projects that has been posted online and on Open Data by the Administration. It will also establish an interagency task force to create a comprehensive, interactive, searchable public database with information about all capital projects citywide.
“An online public capital projects tracker will help improve accountability, transparency and project management so that we can better keep pace with needed investments in our City’s future, from broadband, to renewable energy, to protections from storms like Hurricane Sandy. I am grateful to the de Blasio Administration for committing to create a searchable, online database of the City’s capital projects, and to the Speaker for his support of this effort. This is a critical step forward towards greater fiscal responsibility and equity in infrastructure investments,” said Council Member Brad Lander, lead sponsor of the legislation to create a public, searchable capital projects database.
The annual Capital Commitment Plan for Fiscal Years 2020-2024 totals $85.5 billion. This legislation builds on several mechanisms the City currently uses to assess and track capital projects, including quarterly reports from the School Construction Authority, the NYC Parks Capital Projects Dashboard, and the NYC Capital Projects Dashboard, which was established with the intent of centralizing reporting of capital projects across city agencies, using standardized metrics, and facilitating project management transparency and accountability. Although the Dashboard and other tracking mechanisms were designed to capture capital projects, a more comprehensive, centralized tracking system is still needed. The Dashboard is limited in that it only captures certain information on capital projects with a budget of above $25 million. Lander’s office released reports in 2017 and 2019 that recommended improvements to capital projects management, including the creation of an online public tracker.
Lander’s legislation provides for a taskforce that will develop a public, online, searchable database, updated three times per year, which will display for every City capital construction project:
● name and location of the project
● the agency implementing the project and any agencies contributing funds
● current phase of the project (i.e. pre-design, design, bidding, construction)
● project schedule, including the baseline project schedule, actual schedule variance, and schedule variance as a percentage of the planned duration of the project
● project cost, including total cost, the current amount spent to date, and any cost variance from the original budget
The database will be created by an interagency taskforce consisting of representatives from the Office of Management and Budget, the mayor’s Office of Operations, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Design and Construction, and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. The taskforce is charged by the legislation to:
● develop a data dictionary across City agencies that includes standardized terms, data elements, labels and fields, and phase of the capital construction process
● review and assess existing capital management systems and databases at all agencies that manage capital projects, and make recommendations for new or improved integrated systems
● establish mechanisms to merge and transfer data into the public online capital project database
● develop and implement a plan to review the accuracy of data included in existing capital management systems and databases
● take other steps deemed necessary by the task force to create and implement the public online capital projects database.
An advisory board, consisting of representatives appointed by the Mayor, the Comptroller, and two City Council members, will meet twice a year to oversee the taskforce’s progress and provide feedback and recommendations as appropriate.
All projects will be updated three times a year. Already, the School Construction Authority has begun releasing detailed reports on the status of projects three times a year, and the Department of Design and Construction will begin doing so in the coming months.
“The capital projects tracker is an important tool for transparency and accountability,” said Jeff Thamkittikasem, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations. “We want to thank Councilmember Lander for working with us on this important bill.”
“As the Chair of the Subcommittee on Capital, I am proud to co-sponsor Intro 113A, which establishes a citywide tracking system for capital projects in our City. New Yorkers should have an understanding of capital projects funded by their elected officials and city agencies and through a citywide database, we are providing that opportunity. Our constituents care about park renovations, infrastructure upgrades and capital projects in their communities and we believe this tracking system will provide much needed oversight and accountability to monitor projects timelines, costs and create greater efficiency in the capital process. Special thanks to Speaker Corey Johnson for his leadership and lead Sponsor, Council Member Brad Lander, for his consistency in prioritizing this important legislation. We look forward to working with the Administration on implementing a citywide capital projects system,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson.
“This bill takes an important step forward for improving capital budget transparency,” said Citizens Budget Commission President Andrew Rein. “Better data are necessary to evaluate the City’s infrastructure spending and assess the performance of a large and growing capital program. Providing reliable, consistent, and regularly updated data is just the start, and there will be more work to do to ensure capital investments are meeting the needs of and delivering value for New Yorkers.”
“In participatory budgeting, the most common question we hear after a process is underway is, ‘What happened to the project I voted for?’” said Melissa Appleton, Program Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. “Our experience shows, and research confirms – keeping PB participants informed and up-to-date on funded projects is essential for continued success of participatory budgeting. We can only do this by investing in functional project tracking to ensure real voter and volunteer engagement. We celebrate the New York City Council and their work to make the capital funding process more transparent — and to build on the promise of participatory budgeting by letting us all see exactly where our tax dollars are spent.”
“New York is an aging city with a growing number of infrastructure needs — from sewer upgrades and resiliency planning to parks, libraries, and schools. But all too often, these critical projects end up behind schedule and over budget, frustrating residents who lose access to public spaces and limiting how far the city’s capital dollars can go. In addition to supporting vital reforms already underway to improve capital project delivery, a robust capital projects database would provide much-needed transparency and accountability for the capital construction process and help ensure that city agencies are working together to achieve measurable progress,” said Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director, Center for an Urban Future.
“The public has a right to know, and keep track, of how the city spends our tax dollars. A searchable database of capital projects is key to building an increasingly informed citizenry,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY.
“New Yorkers for Parks has long advocated for information about the City’s capital projects in parks to be made transparent and clear to the public. NYC Parks has been a leader in this through their existing Parks Capital Tracker tool, but we are excited to support this additional layer of public transparency for open space projects across all City agencies. As advocates for better maintenance and conditions in our parks and open spaces citywide, having access to data on the existing pipeline of capital projects and their costs will help us, and everyday New Yorkers, not only push for more improvements to the physical infrastructure of our City, but also the long-term maintenance that is vitally needed to protect those investments,” said Emily Walker, Director of Outreach & Programs, New Yorkers for Parks.
Council Member Lander’s focus on improving New York City Capital Projects Management began in 2012, when his district (District 39) was one of the first to engage in participatory budgeting. Community residents who had voted for capital projects were eager to track the status of those projects. In the absence of an existing City tracking system, Lander’s office established its own capital projects tracker in 2015.
“Participatory budgeting is a tool for bringing people together to focus on important investments in our communities,” Lander said. With this capital projects tracking system, we can have participatory oversight as well.”