Sunday, February 04, 2007

Griffiss Institute: Time to Pull the Plug

Thank you, Observer-Dispatch, for taking off the rose-colored glasses and giving us a hard-hitting story today about the Griffiss Institute's failures as compared to the Sentinel's story yesterday on the GI's new plans for expansion as a business incubator.

A Google Search on "Griffiss Institute for Information Assurance" produced a plethora of hits which provide a virtual time line of events and give more depth to what came out in the Sunday OD. After reading these, the only feeling left is sickness.

The Griffiss Institute for Information Assurance was launched, like other Pataki-era local news-grabbers, with much political hoopla in September 2002.

"This new collaboration will establish Rome as a national center of research and economic development in the field of information security—bringing new high-tech jobs and private sector investment to the Mohawk Valley," Governor Pataki said.

Two months later the first employee was hired: a "chief scientist" who was supposed to formulate a "technical vision" for the Institute that would help it to secure research grants. This Chief Scientist, splitting his time at GI with time at Cornell, expected the Institute to "become a focal point, rather than a new competitor" among the New York's institutions that were involved in cyber security -- a place for them to join together.

According to news accounts of the day, the first year administrative budget was supposed to be about $1 million, including $175,000 for a director, $80,000 each for two associates, and $75,000 to Cornell for the Chief Scientist. The budget should have been a tip-off that things were not right because it seems a little top heavy in administration and very light on what was supposed to be its main mission, research.

GI's Form 990 for 2003 reveals what actually occurred, which should have been another tip-off. On total revenue of $314,641, $290,451 was allegedly spent on program "services." Closer inspection, however, reveals that of these "services" only $75,000 was spent on research (presumably the Chief Scientist's pay), with the bulk of the remainder ($206,250) spent on the Executive Director's salary for an alleged average 40 hours of work/week, although the Executive Director actually took a total of $222,025 (see p 7) that year, with the additional amount being legal fees. I.e., almost 71% of the first year's revenues went to the Executive Director . . . A sweet deal for the Executive Director . . . but with so much money going to one person, how would the Institute have the manpower to get anything accomplished?

It is not really clear what was accomplished in 2003, other than an invitation-only symposium to kick off GI's existence. The Chief Scientist indicated that the symposium would give the participants a chance to present an overview of their work and provide an opportunity for them to talk to each other. All this for a "tête-à-tête" seems rather extravagant. Interestingly, the Executive Director in the news account indicated that the Institute was "partnering with local academic institutions to train young people for careers in information assurance." Funny, the concept of training young people did not come through the governor's original announcement of GI only a few months earlier. (One thing this blogger has learned, the word "partnering" is usually a red flag for some sort of shenanigan, especially when educators are involved.) It should have been a tip-off that something off-target was going on.

By the end of 2003, the first Chief Scientist was to be replaced by a new Chief Scientist from Syracuse U. The first Chief Scientist, meanwhile, in early 2005, went on to become Chief Scientist for "a new Science and Technology Center, that will bring together researchers with a strong background in security research from eight academic institutions along with industrial and government partners." The description of this "center" sounds awfully similar to GI, n'est-ce pas? Where the Cornell press release gives a description of the Chief Scientist's previous experience, GI's status was demoted to merely "a New York state security consortium." So it would appear that the concept behind GI was moved to the first Chief Scientist's home turf -- where he could head it as Chief Scientist. So much for GI being the "focal point."

In a 2004 speech, the Executive Director of the New York State Office of Science Technology & Academic Research (NYSTAR), gushed that "The Institute has established Rome as a national center of research and economic development" and that "The more than 60 academic partners with the Griffiss Institute represents the absolute cream-of-the-scientific crop." The NYSTAR exec sounded like a shill for the Pataki administration because he identified no specific project that GI was working on, in contrast to the several other institutions mentioned in his speech. His statements regarding GI: lots of puffery . . . but no substance.

What was GI working on in 2004? By 2004, GI had entered the education business -- not graduate school level, nor college level, but, rather, High School education -- for Disadvantaged Youth -- sponsored by the County. It also entered the job-creation/charity/money give-away business because the 50 youths participating were paid $5.15/hr for their 200 hours in the program (i.e., $1030 each or $51,500 overall). Funny, supplying summertime jobs was not among the objectives mentioned in GI's initial announcement. Of course, the education part (not the summer jobs) should have been expected: We were alerted to this eventuality the previous year by GI's Executive Director. GI also, apparently, went into the business of giving out awards. (Like "partnering," giving awards is another red flag.)

In 2005 GI lost one of the floors in its building when its landlord rented it to a local business. Of course, this was spinned as a success, but it should have been a tip-off.

By March 2006, the Institute reorganized and officially shifted its focus from research to training. While the EDGE press release claimed that "At its inception, the GI was designed to concentrate on three major areas: basic and applied research, training and degree education, and information assurance products and services," that is not so clear from the original 2002 Governor's press release which emphasized research.

So now, four years after the initial announcement and after spending 4.5 million state taxpayer dollars to fix and equip GI's building, supposedly for research, the OD reports that the Griffiss Institute never produced any research on its own and never even applied for any research grants. It is amazing that the principals involved can claim as a roadblock the federal requirement that grant applications have a sponsoring college research institution when several colleges and universities are represented on GI's Board of Directors, including Cornell, SU, Utica College, and SUNY-IT. It is also amazing that they can cite a federal accounting requirement forbidding pass-thru of federal funds to GI as a roadblock to GI's work when they have high-powered legal assistance on their payroll. The first Chief Scientist had it right, right in the beginning: GI would not be a competitor. But maybe the real reason is because Cornell, SU and UC, all of whom sit on GI's board and have competing programs of their own, would not want any competition. About all GI has accomplished is a "cybersecurity boot camp" for high schoolers ... but even that seems to have been taken over by SU for its own.

The Griffiss Institute seems to have been "Dead on Arrival," picked to pieces by the people and institutions responsible for its very survival. Now GI wants a new mission and a new life.



Anonymous said...

A brilliant article which shows the promise of blogging to provide citizen reporting. Working a path through various milestones of GI, the author clearly demonstrates that this project has always been about PR and politics, not development or science. OD 'reporting' on GI is shown to fall pretty short of what is possible and desirable. Thanks so much for your time and effort.

Anonymous said...

STRIKESLIP: Could you please explain when I clicked on the Sunday Observer Dispatch article of February 4, 2007; that is is no longer available.

It appears the Observer Dispatch Editors are reluctant to accurately report what is really happening.

I wonder if the Observer Dispatch will ever publish 990 Salaries paid to individuals who are tied more to politics than in doing the community a service.

For example: Is it true that the Executive Director of United Celebral Palsy's salary is in excess of $269,000 per annum exclusive of his ties to the TRADEWINDS, a "NON-PROFIT" which was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and closed down? (Courtesy of Guidestar.)

How many other so-called non-profits are paying ridiculous annual salaries to so-called "Executives?" I did notice a Mr. Pincente being paid well over $100,000 in addition to Mr. Tehan.

Will the Observer Dispatch ever report what appears disproportionate salaries to personnel working less than a 40 hour work week. It is no wonder why the program participants receive less in program benefits.

Please let me know if my facts are wrong.

Anonymous said...


Do you collaborate? I am not looking to be recognized for my contributions but in most respects I am concerned about our area and lack of progress and accountability. My writing talents are lacking but make up for it sometimes with nuggets of information which may help you along. Follow the money and the crossties of multiple paychecks or payment for services.

Who is the landlord of the GI building anyways? Is it EDGE, GLDC or RoANN’s brother in law.

Another story (small) who stood up as guess speaker at the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Mohawk Valley Homebuilders Association luncheons? Your New County Executive…he forgot, even after receiving reminder emails and a phone call.

Send me a sign in your blog about collaboration

Silence Dogood

Strikeslip said...

If by collaborate you mean giving a tip, I'll consider all the tips I get - - - but will not publish anything I cannot verify.

I can be e-mailed through my profile.

Strikeslip said...

Arkangel - I found $0 pay for Mr. P in the 990s I reviewed.
Scilence - the Landlord was GLDC per the linked article.

MadSpartan said...

Taxpayers should always view, with great skepticism and suspicion, anytime the public sector looks to expand economic benefits through partnerships with the private sector. It's akin to mixing oil and water and expecting a perfectly balanced symbiotic relationship. Government is the antithesis of free enterprise. Free enterprise cannot exist when the government is involved.

We have heard a great deal in recent years of the "public sector," and solemn discussions abound through the land on whether or not the public sector should be increased vis-à-vis the "private sector." The very terminology is redolent of pure science, and indeed it emerges from the supposedly scientific, if rather grubby, world of "national income statistics." But the concept is hardly wertfrei; in fact, it is fraught with grave, and questionable, implications.

One would not think it difficult for scholars and laymen alike to grasp the fact that government is not like the Rotarians or the Elks; that it differs profoundly from all other organs and institutions in society; namely, that it lives and acquires its revenues by coercion and not by voluntary payment.

One of the most important features of our economic resources is their scarcity: land, labor, and capital goods factors are all scarce, and may all be put to various possible uses. The free market uses them "productively" because the producers are guided, on the market, to produce what the consumers most need: automobiles, for example, rather than buggies. Therefore, while the statistics of the total output of the private sector seem to be a mere adding of numbers, or counting units of output, the measures of output actually involve the important qualitative decision of considering as "product" what the consumers are willing to buy. A million automobiles, sold on the market, are productive because the consumers so considered them; a million buggies, remaining unsold, would not have been "product" because the consumers would have passed them by.

Most economists have two basic arguments on behalf of the public sector, which we may only consider very briefly here. One is the problem of "external benefits." A and B often benefit, it is held, if they can force C into doing something. Much can be said in criticism of this doctrine; but suffice it to say here that any argument proclaiming the right and goodness of, say, three neighbors, who yearn to form a string quartet, forcing a fourth neighbor at bayonet point to learn and play the viola, is hardly deserving of sober comment. The second argument is more substantial; stripped of technical jargon, it states that some essential services simply cannot be supplied by the private sphere, and that therefore government supply of these services is necessary. And yet, every single one of the services supplied by government has been, in the past, successfully furnished by private enterprise. The bland assertion that private citizens cannot possibly supply these goods is never bolstered, in the works of these economists, by any proof whatever. How is it, for example, that economists, so often given to pragmatic or utilitarian solutions, do not call for social "experiments" in this direction? Why must political experiments always be in the direction of more government? Why not give the free market a county or even a state or two, and see what it can accomplish?