Officials in Ottawa scramble to clear emerging cases
OTTAWA—The head of the federal department overseeing the effort to fix the Phoenix civil-servant payroll system says the government isn’t contemplating legal action, even though at least one other country has gone down that path.
Tech giant IBM created the Phoenix pay system, basing it on the PeopleSoft program that is used worldwide and tailoring it to the needs of the federal civil service.
The state government in Queensland, Australia, unsuccessfully tried to sue IBM for a similar pay-system problem in a case that wrapped up earlier this year. That case was getting started just as the Canadian government went to tender for its new pay system.
Now, the federal Liberal government has budgeted an extra $50 million to handle issues related to Phoenix, including millions to IBM to make fixes to the system.
“We have no reason to sue IBM right now. IBM is respecting its contract. They have been good partners,” said Marie Lemay, deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement Canada.
“When we find issues that have to be corrected, they’re right there, they’re correcting it.”
Those corrections continue as officials try to eliminate a backlog of thousands of cases by the end of the month and deal with emerging cases that have stretched departmental resources to the maximum.
The government was forced to hire or re-hire hundreds of payroll and call centre workers after more than 82,000 civil servants reported problems with their paycheques. Hundreds of complainants had not been paid at all, in many cases for months.
Lemay said officials have cleared more than 38,228 of the incorrect pay cases that were in the system as of July 1. She said officials cleared about 15,000 cases in recent weeks, leaving the department on track to clear the backlog by Oct. 31.
Dealing with ongoing pay issues in cases identified since July 1 has proven more difficult than originally thought, she added. Lemay said the extra 200 staff who were hired to help smooth the rocky transition to the Phoenix system are operating at full capacity.
“I would not have expected us to be operating at … full capacity,” Lemay said. “There is a time for implementation (and) you would not expect to be at full, 100 per cent right away when you implement it.”
The department has also started to process claims from employees who incurred out-of-pocket expenses because they weren’t paid on time, such as interest on credit cards.
To date, government claims officials have dealt with 52 such cases with a total value of about $30,000.
The most straightforward claims, those under $500, are being processed by department and the focus to date has been trying to help departments handle those smaller, simpler claims. Larger, more complicated claims will be handled by a special office headed by former Treasury Board executive Alfred Tsang.
Tsang said it will take some time to determine how well the system is working, including answering questions about the veracity of processed claims.
“We will need a bit more time for us to analyze that kind of a trend. We’re mostly focused on the first step (in the claims process), which is the submission on the claims,” he said.
“The reporting is the fourth step and we’ll be there in the weeks to come.”