Controller questions if 3-1-1 Center is working

UPDATED: This post has been updated to include the city's response.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz just released a new report that questions whether the city's 3-1-1 system -- a key program created in Mayor Nutter's first term -- is living up to expectations.

Among the issues raised in the report is that 3-1-1 does not appear to have reduced the call load coming in to the city's 9-1-1 line and that it is difficult to track the vast majority of 3-1-1 calls to see if service is being properly provided.

Check out the report here (which contains the administration's response) and see the Controller's press release below. Scroll down for the city's press release too.

Butkovitz Says 311 System Fails to Meet Key Goals

City Controller’s report finds reduction in non-emergency 911 calls virtually non-existent

PHILADELPHIA – City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released the Report on the Philly 311 System that found the $6 million a year constituent answering service didn’t meet any of the key goals established by the Nutter Administration.

Of the more than 1.3 million calls that came into the 311 System in 2010, only seven percent were monitored. One of the main missions of the 311 System was to monitor all calls received, classify the category of the call and the type of request, and track how much time it took for the request to be addressed and completed.

“There is no excuse for allowing 93 percent of all 311 calls to go unmonitored,” said Butkovitz. “The failure to monitor and code these calls is a direct contradiction of one of the main missions of the 311 System.”

Another core mission of the 311 System was to alleviate non-emergency calls to 911. Responding to the Controller’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS) audit that found EMS units arriving late 40 percent of the time, Mayor Michael Nutter expressed the need for a 311 System to reduce non-emergency calls to 911.

According to Butkovitz, the reduction in non-emergency calls to 911 has been virtually non-existent, if at all.

“One of the goals of any 311 System is to take non-emergency calls away from 911,” said Butkovitz. “In other cities across the country 311 has substantially reduced the number of non-emergency calls to 911, including some cities with double digit reductions.”

Baltimore saw a 50% reduction in non-emergency calls to 911; San Antonio experienced a 20% decrease, while Houston realized a 14% reduction and Denver a 12% reduction.

Other goals of the 311 System that have not been met include the following:

-operators are not available 24 hours per day, seven days a week as promised

-unable to meet its mission to improve city government and the delivery of services

-little effort on the part of the Administration to inform or educate the public about the existence of 311 System.

-no mechanism in place to gauge if citizens are aware of the System’s existence or how many calls coming into City Departments are bypassing the 311 System.

In addition, the Controller’s report found that the 311 System costs taxpayers $6 million a year, not $2.8 million as stated by the Administration.

“Providing accurate financial information and correct statistical data will allow key decision makers in the Administration and City Council to be properly informed about 311’s spending and the success or failure of the system,” said Butkovitz.

“The 311 management and the Administration should use this report and its recommendations as a vehicle to create a formal set of financial and performance guidelines that will accurately monitor the 311 System and help reduce the number of non-emergency calls going to the already overtaxed 911 emergency system.”

UPDATE: City Press Release


Philadelphia, October 4, 2011– City of Philadelphia Managing Director Rich Negrin released data that demonstrates that the City’s 311 call system made excellent progress during its first two years in operation.

“Despite the Controller’s assertions, Philly311 is a success,” said Managing Director Negrin. “The data we released today, which we also provided to the Controller, clearly indicates our success.”

The top three reasons for general information calls to Philly311 are for business licensing, court administration, and refuse disposal inquiries. Philly311 also processed over 200,000 city operations service requests primarily for code violation inspections, vacant lot cleanup and missed trash collection.

The 311 program data was released in response to a report by City Controller Alan Butkovitz that asserts that the program is expensive and inefficient. However, according to Negrin, the Controller’s Office did not take into consideration all of the complex customer engagement functions handled within the 311 operations center.

Those functions include back office contact support operations, which processed over 21,000 customer emails and web-self service requests, as well as serving over 30,000 walk-in visitors to the City Hall facility. Also, the Controller incorporated capital and benefit costs into the report, two items not usually included in audits of other city departments, including the Controller’s Office.

Customer satisfaction is the primary measurement of the program’s success and the key factor ignored by the Controller. “To achieve consistently a score in the 90% range in just the second year is outstanding and a true credit to our city employees. We make first-class customer service a priority at Philly311,” said Negrin.

More than 3,000 customer satisfaction surveys show an average customer satisfaction rating of 92 percent. Examples of customer survey testimonials include:

“Every time I've called 311 it's been positive experiences and I like the system”; and “I work at a non-profit law firm and had a question related to a landlord. The 311 Agent went into the L&I system and provided me with all the information I needed. In the past, I used to have to try and track someone down at L&I and wait, wait, wait on hold. Now I can just call 311!”

“The results from the customer satisfaction shows Philly 311 is working for the people who call in,” said Rosetta Carrington Lue, 311 Contact Center Director. “Receiving direct feedback from the citizens we serve keeps us motivated. We are continually improving upon our customer service experience.”

Managing Director Negrin added, “Unlike the Pew case study, the Controller’s program report did not include any of those results in the final report. It clearly missed the whole point of the program.”

Lue also noted that the Controller’s report failed to mention that the 311 Program was designated as a Citizen-Engaged Community winner by the Public Institute of Technology in 2010. The City of Philadelphia was one of only nine cities to receive this designation by creating multi-access channels for residents to contact their local government. “I am very proud that the City of Philadelphia and the staff of Philly311 were applauded for their strong commitment to improve communication with the public,” she said.

The mission of Philly311 is aligned with Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s strategic Goal #5 for the city: Government Being More Efficient, Effective and Responsive. A PhillyStat session will be held on Friday, October 7, 2011 from 11:00am to 12:30pm in Room 1450 at the Municipal Services Building to review the Philly311 operations.