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Nassau to use artificial intelligence to flag problem vendors

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Wednesday announced a pilot partnership with Exiger, which uses artificial intelligence to identify potential problems with county vendors. (Credit: Danielle Silverman)

Nassau officials will get nightly reports detailing potential problems with county vendors — from ethical conflicts to bribery convictions — using artificial intelligence technology, County Executive Laura Curran announced Wednesday.

Exiger, a Manhattan-based company that uses the technology with financial clients, is offering the software to Nassau without charge under an 18-month pilot program. The company generally works with financial institutions, issuing specialized reports to them about potential risks to their business. 

Computer-generated searches can home in on occupational and safety violations, bankruptcy filings, criminal indictments, convictions for bid rigging, fraud and debarment, Exiger officials said.

Curran, a Democrat, said the county will begin using the software on March 4. She called it "another big step that will take Nassau County from worst, to first, when it comes to transparency and ethics in procurement."

Previously, officials said, government officials had reviewed open source records — "basically a Google search," Curran said.

The new software uses "natural language processing" to refine searches to capture particularly relevant information, rather than a crush of findings a Google search could generate.

For example, with banks, "is there now something about this oligarch, did you do something that now we need to know about?" said Mike Cherkasky, Exiger executive chairman.

Cherkasky is a former federal monitor who oversaw the carting industry on Long Island, HSBC and the Los Angeles Police Department. He also is a former rackets bureau chief in the Manhattan district attorney's Office.

"There is some mistrust in government … but going forward, we have to prove to our taxpayers that we are spending their money properly. We're very heavily taxed here in Nassau County," Curran said.

In 2015, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas issued a report describing Nassau County’s contracting process as "a diffuse, paper-based system, with critical components of contract files scattered between agencies.

Without a comprehensive, central contract and vendor database, this system is nearly impossible to thoroughly audit or review," the report said.

 Department officials previously ran queries about vendors online, via Google, but that took time and was not done consistently, said Robert Cleary, chief procurement officer. 

"The county has very few people to do this. You've got one person in each department basically looking at their contracting process," he said. "Even if somebody does do a deep dive, they're not necessarily knowing what they're looking for. This artificial intelligence does a lot of that information for you."

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