New York City Transit Authority Interim President Sarah Feinberg revealed Wednesday that the city’s transit system has no formal record detailing what each of its 70,000 employees do, or even who they report to.
In a tell-all interview about the city’s wasteful transit spending, she said that some people who were on the payroll were not even working for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
“There are people who do not work here who we are paying,” Feinberg said, told the Daily News. “It’s crazy … I absolutely believe there are a lot of people wandering around and no one knows who they report to.”
“I’m basically doing my own reorganization,” said Feinberg. “I’ve been here four months, before that I was on the MTA board for a year. We’ve been talking about ‘transformation’ and consolidation the entire time.”
Feinberg said she’s been doing what she can to pinch pennies, because every dollar saved buys time before she’s forced to reduce service.
“I can’t wait any longer to save money,” she added.
In the short term, Feinberg said she has put a hold on out-of-state travel expenses and vowed to crack down on employee use of metro vehicles for personal use.
In January, the MTA’s newly hired chief transformation officer Anthony McCord hired 120 consultants to figure out how to cut 2,600 jobs at the MTA. But those plans were put on hold during the pandemic. Feinberg said she expects to cut the consultants. “The first thing you do is cut internally, you cut the consultants, cut the s— you didn’t even know you were spending money on,” she said.
“There is money being spent here that I did not know about,” Feinberg added.
The interim president divulged that managers across the agency had found ways to get around a hiring freeze enacted in 2018, which was supposed to keep any new non-essential employees from joining the agency.
“The way you get around a hiring freeze is by saying, ‘I need to hire this person in order to continue operations or in order to keep the system safe,‘” said Feinberg. “You can give someone an operational title like conductor, but what you really have them do is data entry or be someone’s driver.”
Feinberg said she plans to enact oversight of the MTA’s hiring process. The agency’s human resources department is given a budget and brings in new staff until the budget is spent, Feinberg said.
“You tell me my budget is $100, and I just hire people until I’ve spent that $100,” she said. “It’s almost like you blindly walk down the aisle at a grocery store and what is in your cart is a surprise.”
Feinberg said the COVID-19 pandemic left the agency’s massive shortcomings on full display. The agency had no email address or phone number on file for thousands of employees and thus could not conduct in-house contact tracing for coronavirus. The disease so far has killed 131 transit workers.
“There are going to be a lot of cuts that will be painful, but they need to come,” Feinberg said. “Some of them we never would have done, but we have to do them because we are in this position with the pandemic.”