Government Technology

Answering the Call

May 5, 2005 By

This story is reprinted with permission from the May issue of Government Technology's Public CIO

Gino Menchini

To spend an entire day with Gino Menchini, commissioner of New York City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), is to experience New York's traditional, hectic pace in technological overdrive. Menchini works hard and fast to get things done, and like his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he combines this determined drive with vision, down-to-earth political savvy and a sincere desire to do all he can to make the city better for citizens. After a 12-hour day (a short day for Menchini), I was exhausted just tagging along and watching him work.

While Menchini is modest about the city's overall IT accomplishments and argues that many other large cities have also made significant progress lately, the reality is that New York City presents challenges unlike those facing any other city CIO.

For one thing, there is the city's sheer magnitude. New York City's annual budget of $48 billion exceeds the size of all but five states. Menchini's own department has a budget of $180 million and now includes approximately 1,200 employees. Yet that is not nearly enough to do everything asked of him, and IT budget issues are a constant concern.

"What we do is just so different from what most other municipalities do, or for that matter, what most other governments do in terms of the scope of our services," Menchini said, adding that the municipality encompasses five boroughs, the equivalent of individual counties. So New York City itself provides a wide range of services -- such as human services -- typically provided by counties. "On top of that, you have the size and magnitude of what we are. Even just the intensity of New York City and the depth of needs in certain areas make for a very challenging government environment. And then added to all this was Sept. 11th. Our jobs, I think, increased exponentially in terms of what we were faced with after that."

Bloomberg and his administration came to power only a few months after 9/11, and response to that and other possible terrorist threats has been the crucible in which the new administration was forged. Without doubt for Menchini, who was directly involved in the response from day one, that personal experience continues to shape many of the dimensions of his job at the helm of DoITT.

Menchini, who grew up in Brooklyn, actually left public service after a 14-year stint as head of MIS at the city's Board of Education, followed by three years as head of IT for the Office of Operations where he led city Y2K preparations. He was working as a major-account manager for Cisco Systems when the World Trade Center collapsed. He immediately jumped in to help.

Just hours after the attack, after clearing it with Cisco CEO John Chambers, Menchini was ripping equipment and supplies out of Cisco's New York offices and loading it into police cars and taxicabs. And with Larry Knafo, now one of his deputy commissioners, he built the telecommunication and IT components for the initial command and family assistance centers, and then larger facilities when these proved insufficient after the first 24 hours.

As we drove through Manhattan years later, Menchini described what it was really like there -- the streets filled with a foot of dust, where Knafo's parked car was crushed by falling debris, where he was pulling people out of taxicabs to load in equipment.

"It's really hard to reconstruct the events of that day and the aftermath in our minds," Menchini said. "A huge area in Manhattan was uninhabitable because of all the dust. The

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