Questions Michael Flaherty, Sam Yoon and Kevin McCrea should be asking

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The Globe this week ran successive stories (here and here) regarding Boston’s new computer tracking system for city services.

In this morning’s article, the three candidates challenging Mayor Menino were unsurprisingly critical of the new system – that it took too long to get up and running, that it still isn’t a true CitiStat program like the one Somerville uses and Baltimore pioneered, that posting the data to the Boston About Results website every quarter doesn’t give either residents or city managers real time data.

All of that might be true, but I want to pose some questions of my own.

1) Why does budget data on BAR still only include the appropriations for FY08 and not the actual expenditures? Boston’s FY08 ended on June 30th last year. Does it really take 11 months to post the data? Can we make honest evaluations of spending trends in city government when the last data on expenditures we have according to BAR dates from June 30, 2007?

2) According to BAR, the average number of hours an employee in the city’s transportation department was absent rose from 96 in FY06 to 127 in FY08. (If you’re doing the math, that comes out to more than 15 sick days a year.) The average in the public works department rose from 77 to 107. Yet overtime costs, which were in, according to actual expenditures, 2006 and 2007 almost $4 million, were appropriated in FY08 at less than $2 million. Are we to believe that the city successfully held the line on overtime costs in FY08 in the BTD and PWD despite an increase in absenteeism?

Yes, the city has taken tentative steps to improve management. BAR is one of them. There is still a distance to go, however, before an effective data management system is fully up and running.