Unemployment Benefits by Google
This is the first story in an original recurring series, DocuDrop, centered around obscure public records. Expect more soon.
It was the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic -- businesses were shutting down, economies were crashing, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers had yet to die -- when comically (or not) the state Department of Labor's unemployment application systems began crashing under the load of widespread job loss unprecedented in the computer age. Forced from their jobs by government mandate, the newly unemployed could not even apply for their legally-entitled government benefits. The state was just technically incompetent to fulfill this mandated responsibility.
Enter Google. It was with much fanfare that the governor announced that Google would come and save the day. This was no job for mere government employees. This was a job only a Californian tech oligopoly could handle. So, without much question for the ethical implications of enshrining Google as processor and custodian of the private data of the state's most vulnerable citizens, the state unloaded a mountain of cash at the feet of the great Mountain View tech profiteer.
But when this much state money is in play -- and so easy -- it's unlikely any one player will get the whole pie. That's where Carahsoft Technology Corporation comes into play, a tech reseller based in Virginia which buys tech licenses in bulk from companies like Google to resell at a higher rate to governments around the country.
Here are the key findings from an analysis of the state's contract with Google and Carahsoft:
New York State paid $1,435,132.94 to Carahsoft
Carahsoft paid $1,360,000 to Google
The estimated work schedule was 8 weeks, but not to exceed 10 weeks
The primary task was to stabilize three user flows: for new applicants; for existing applicants checking status; for existing users re-certifying status
Google is not responsible to "obtain and maintain security approvals and measures for storing personally identifiable information, nor certify compliance"
The state is responsible for obtaining consent and providing notice to users regarding Google's "accessing, storing and processing" of private data
Google may process: individual and dependent names; birthdates; social security numbers; addresses; license and ID numbers; "or similar"
Assuming the project took the contractually agreed upon maximum amount of time, 10 weeks, that leaves the state paying $143,513 per week of work. That is 47% higher than the average annual salary of a software engineer working in New York City, according to GlassDoor. It is more than double the average annual salary of a New York City systems administrator. For the same amount of money the state paid for 10 weeks of labor from Google, it could have hired between 14 and 20 qualified professionals for an entire year. But instead of contracting a local firm or hiring local talent, the state opted to boost the bottom-line of a Californian tech giant with a long and well-documented history of ethical abuses.
And none of this is to imply that the state couldn't have saved all of this money entirely if it had just done the job correctly the first time.