Consultant grilled in Philadelphia IT project

Contractor's qualifications and billing practices queried. Matt Hamblen reports

A computer consultant who billed the city of Philadelphia more than US$1.4 million (NZ$2.2 million) for her work on a troubled municipal water billing system has come under public scrutiny amid concerns that she overbilled the city and exaggerated her background on her resume.

Jeanette Foxworth, 52, of New Orleans, was suspended last year from her role in the troubled Project Ocean initiative, which is two years late and has so far cost the city US$18 million — more than twice what it was expected to cost. In a separate matter, Foxworth was indicted in April by a federal grand jury in Connecticut on charges of paying a state senator US$3,000 to help her win consulting contracts. She pleaded not guilty and faces trial in November.

Foxworth is president of consultancy Acetech in New Orleans. She was paid US$150 an hour and averaged more than 82 hours a week for 13 consecutive weeks between December 2001 and March 2002 while working on Project Ocean. She was also working on an IT project in Connecticut in December 2001, according to a July 13 letter by Philadelphia city controller Alan Butkovitz, who looked into the matter and detailed his findings in a letter to Philadelphia CIO Dianah Neff.

“It seems highly improbable that any person could sustain those kinds of hours for three consecutive months without any break,” Butkovitz wrote. He says both the city and an IT recruiting firm handling her payroll for the city, Arcus, should have questioned the legitimacy of the billable hours.

Butkovitz also questioned whether Foxworth had the qualifications and credentials to effectively implement the water billing system, listing a series of possible exaggerations on her resume.

Neff told Computerworld US that Foxworth’s services were suspended in October along with the services of about five other consultants. Project Ocean has been a “difficult project”, she says, adding that she had no reason to doubt Foxworth’s ability to work on the project. Neff says she and Foxworth know each other through occasional meetings regarding Project Ocean.

“I didn’t have any reason to doubt her ability for the work she was hired to do,” Neff said in an interview. “I do not feel she didn’t deliver, but whether she worked those hours, I can’t say.”

Neff says “there may have been three to four months” where she signed Foxworth’s time sheets, although she couldn’t be sure.

Neff says that in general, her department, the Mayor’s Office of Information Services, helped institute a programme 18 months ago to qualify vendors and consultants using pre-established requirements and guidelines. Prior to the new process, the process of verifying contractor timesheets “was not being tightly monitored ... but has been corrected and is being followed diligently today”, Neff wrote in a July 26 response to Butkovitz regarding his concerns about Foxworth.

“As far as I know, at the time ... Foxworth was hired, the city had no standard practice requiring background checks for consultants,” Neff wrote.

Foxworth told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Butkovitz’s report was “fictitious and a lie” and says she should not be blamed for problems with Project Ocean, which she says she had tried to warn the city about.

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