Head-scratching bureaucratic incompetence doomed a city plan to track school buses and lost it millions of dollars in unclaimed Medicaid reimbursements, a city investigation found.
A troubled 2015 contract with the GPS company Teletrac Navman grew to include 6,000 city school buses — despite the fact the system was so poorly designed it wasn’t even activated 75-80% of the time and included almost 1,000 broken devices at points.
The contract, which cost the city almost $10 million, never delivered on its initial promise of providing student tracking data the city could submit to claim Medicaid reimbursement for transporting special education students — an oversight that lost the city millions of dollars in unclaimed funds.
“The DOE has an obligation to maximize its financial resources to best assist the students and families of this district,” wrote Anastasia Coleman, the Special Commissioner of Investigations, in the new report.
City officials in the Office of Pupil Transportation contacted Navman in 2013 after realizing they were leaving millions of potential dollars in Medicaid reimbursements on the table because they didn’t have adequate tracking data.
OPT’s director, Alexandra Robinson represented herself as an expert on applying for Medicaid reimbursement despite never having successfully done it, according to the report. Robinson floated the idea of working with Navman based on the company’s supposedly advanced technology and low cost. The contract, in theory, would help the city claim the insurance money while also allowing it to track the location of buses in real time.
But the execution was an exercise in bureaucratic futility.
City officials never learned how the devices actually worked — they include a tablet drivers need to manually turn on and log into — and failed to outline drivers’ responsibilities in the new system in contracts with bus companies.
A pilot program with the new GPS trackers raised scores of red flags, including broken devices and a tracker that showed a bus sitting in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. But officials pressed forward and installed thousands more of the devices.
The issues only multiplied. The city paid hundreds of thousands for broken devices, paid double on some trackers, and got hundreds of complaints from drivers frustrated by the spotty system, according to the investigation.
Navman provided minimal technical support. The company was almost two year late staffing an employee to work on site in New York and neglected to keep records of past invoices for city officials to review, according to the report.
The Education Department installed thousands of devices from a different company over the summer after the City Council passed a law in January requiring the agency to put GPS on all buses. But the Navman trackers are still wreaking havoc. Last week, The Daily News monitored calls from a parent looking for the location of her son’s bus only to be told the GPS device wasn’t activated.
The city has announced a contract with the rideshare app Via that will require all new GPS technology in buses and allow parents to track the vehicles through an app.
Calls to the Education Dept. were not returned.