New York City is the largest direct-service governmental body in the nation.

With hundreds of service offerings, more than 100 agencies, 350,000 city employees and a growing 8 million resident population (with an extra 2 million people converging on the city by day), only the state governments of New York and California and the federal government compete with New York City in size.

Because of the city's enormity and great service demands, an otherwise simple problem can become a complex issue that involves many agencies. This means a bigger challenge for New York City's 311 call center, which handles most of the city's nonemergency calls, local government questions and requests for service, and has already fielded 50 million calls since its March 2003 debut, according to the Mayor's Office of Operations.

"The issue is that 311 is very popular, and the result is that people call it for everything imaginable, including very complicated human services, building inspections, etc.," said Councilwoman Gale Brewer, a Democrat who represents Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Although Brewer, who chairs the council's technology committee, is a 311 advocate, she's forthright in pointing out its limitations. "The system is so responsive," she said, "but the city is so big and the problems are so complicated that the 311 system needs to utilize some local resources."

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Jessica Weidling  |  Staff Writer