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PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2017 9:11 am    Post subject: fixing Phoenix pay system could cost $1 billion Reply with quote

( news that it could cost a $billion dollars to fix the troubled phoenix pay system in Ottawa )

Minister: Fixing Phoenix pay system could cost $1B

Rachel Aiello, Ottawa News Bureau Online Producer

Published Sunday, November 12, 2017 7:00AM EST

OTTAWA – The minister responsible for the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system can't guarantee that the tab to get things under control won’t hit a billion dollars.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough says she can’t promise that taxpayers won’t be on the hook for a sky high bill to tame the payroll program that’s been smouldering for years.

On CTV's Question Period, host Evan Solomon asked Qualtrough if the cost to fix the public service pay system could hit a billion dollars. Her response was: "I hope not."

Phoenix pay protest
Public servants protest over problems with the Phoenix pay system outside the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"I can’t guarantee that, no," she continued.

The Phoenix system, initiated by the previous Conservative government in 2009, was meant to streamline the payroll of public servants and save more than $70-million annually. Already, the government has planned to spend $400-million trying to fix it, including hiring more staff and setting up satellite pay centres in Gatineau, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Shawinigan, to try to chip away at the pile of remaining cases. It cost $309.5 million to implement the system.

The initial promise from the department was to have the backlog of problematic pay cases resolved by Oct. 31, 2016.

As of Oct. 18, there were 265,000 cases of employee pay issues left to be resolved, and the department says more than half of public servants who get paid through the system are still experiencing "some form of pay issue."

Qualtrough couldn’t say when the system—created by IBM—will be paying public servants correctly and on time, though she anticipates the number of cases left to be triaged will go down in the New Year.

"I just feel horribly that we’re not able to pay our public servants promptly and accurately every two weeks, and it keeps me awake at night to tell you the truth," the minister said.

'There was really no choice'

Though the previous government got the ball rolling on the new pay program, the Liberal government has taken considerable heat from the opposition and the public service unions for making the call to forge ahead with its rollout, even though an independent consulting group’s report found that concerns about the success of rollout were ignored.

Qualtrough said, when it came time for her government to make the call on whether to give the go-ahead, "there was really no choice," but refuted that they knowingly implemented a system that would cause so much suffering for thousands of federal workers.

"The choice wasn’t between the new system and an old system, the choice was between the new system and no system. We didn’t have pay compensation advisers, they had all been fired. The Conservatives had de-commissioned the old system… at that point the choice had been made. We had to keep going. We had to pay people," she said.

Qualtrough said the system as it is does have "bugs" and highlighted the complexity of customizing the software for the intricacies of federal pay, but said they’re working it out.

"It’s just taking too long," she said.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2017 9:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A year after Phoenix was to be fixed, more than half of public servants still having pay problems

Rachel Aiello, Ottawa News Bureau Online Producer

Published Wednesday, November 1, 2017 3:23PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, November 1, 2017 4:13PM EDT

OTTAWA – The number of backlogged public servant pay cases due to issues with the Phoenix pay system has grown from last month, with 265,000 pay transactions now past due.

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of when the federal government promised to have Phoenix system fixed. The government now says more than half of public servants are still experiencing “some form of pay issue.”

Wednesday’s update to Public Services “pay dashboard,” which is tracking the progress on fixing the problem-plagued payroll system for federal workers, shows an increase of 8,000 cases from September.

Phoenix Pay
As of Sept. 20, there were 257,000 cases of employee pay issues left to be resolved.

The initial promise from the department was to have the backlog of problematic pay cases resolved by Oct. 31, 2016.

The government says the increase is the result of continuing to deal with the influx of collective agreements, which has been "more complex and time consuming than initially anticipated,” the update on the website reads.

“It’s not going to be resolved overnight,” Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough told reporters Wednesday after question period. “We have to stabilize this system. I’m very hopeful that in the new year the numbers will go down,” she said.

The Phoenix system, initiated by the previous Conservative government in 2009, was meant to streamline the payroll of public servants and save more than $70-million annually. Already, the government has planned to spend $400-million over two years trying to fix it, including setting up hiring more staff and setting up satellite pay centres to try to chip away at the pile of remaining cases.

Qualtrough said she is “absolutely committed” to the Phoenix pay system, and still believes the problems within it are fixable.

“It’s not like there’s another option waiting out there…There will come a time in the future where people will be paid promptly, accurately, and on time.”


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2017 10:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

How can these things happen, and there not be an execution or two? Or at least some high profile firings, where the former office-holder is dragged through the public humiliation of a perp walk, cameras rolling?

Is this reminiscent of how the Mcguinty's gang handled the problem of gas-fired power plants that turned out to be too near the fine homes of the squires of Oakville?

A $billion here, a $billion there ... it happens.

Be forewarned. You might ask -- if the whole civil service were paid by cheques, hand written by old priests with quill pens, would it cost $billion dollars to issue them? Just musing ...

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2017 2:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Phoenix payroll mess will take several years and more than $540M to fix, spending watchdog says

Auditor General Michael Ferguson also reports dismal service at tax agency call centres

By Kathleen Harris, CBC News Posted: Nov 21, 2017 10:01 AM ET| Last Updated: Nov 21, 2017 2:07 PM ET

Auditor General Michael Ferguson holds a news conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa Tuesday to discuss findings in his 2017 fall report.

It will take several years and far more than the $540 million the Liberal government has set aside to fix its troubled payroll system, Canada's spending watchdog said Tuesday.

In his fall slate of six audits, Auditor General Michael Ferguson finds that successive governments have failed to address the Phoenix payroll mess, leaving thousands of employees overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

Ferguson said the government is lowballing both the three-year timeline and the $540 million price tag for a long-term, efficient solution, and called on the Treasury Board of Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada to track and publicly report on the plan.

But despite the major problems, he said it would be wrong to scrap the Phoenix system now after seven years of development and implementation.

"If they started all over again, it's hard to see how they would actually end up in a better situation," he said. "I think at this point, their only real option is to try and resolve the problem within the system as it exists right now."
■Highlights from the fall 2017 auditor general report
■Canadians getting bad advice from the taxman: auditor
■Auditor criticizes misconduct at military college
■Answers to 9 questions on Canada immigration

The Phoenix system already cost $310 million to create and implement, which means the overall cost to build and fix the program is edging toward $1 billion.

'Frustrated and angry'

Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, said her own battles with overpayments and underpayments left her "unbelievably frustrated and angry."

She urged the Canadian public to be patient and understanding as federal government employees consider new steps to force the government to act.

Public Servants protesting
Public servants have held protests against the failed Phoenix payroll system. (Julie Ireton/CBC)

"If we do start to do escalating tactics, just try and understand what it would mean for you and your family if you weren't getting a paycheque and you couldn't put food on the table," she told CBC News. "Try and have empathy for us as we start looking at new options."

Ahead of today's audit, Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough sent a letter to federal public servants apologizing for the disastrous pay system last week, as the backlog of cases ballooned to 520,000.

"I am truly sorry that more than half of the public servants continue to experience some form of pay issue. Too many of you have been waiting too long for your pay," she said in the letter dated Nov. 16.

The backlog of cases includes 265,000 files in which public servants have been underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all, a situation the minister described as "unacceptable" in her letter.

Auditor General says Phoenix pay system here to stay2:21

At a news conference today, Qualtrough called the situation "beyond unacceptable" and said the government is not ruling out any options for a long-term solution, including ultimately getting rid of the system.

She blamed the former Conservative government for forging ahead with the system to save money, but said right now she is focused on stabilizing the situation, working within the confines of the flawed Phoenix system by opening new call centres and hiring new people.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pushed the blamed back at the Liberals, insisting the Trudeau government "rushed" ahead with the launch despite warnings it was not yet ready.

CRA giving incorrect information

Auditors also uncovered dismal service standards at the Canada Revenue Agency's nine call centres across the country, reporting that nearly a third of all callers were given incorrect information.

And that's when they actually got through to an agent.

Most had to try several times over the course of a week, as more than half the calls were "blocked," meaning the caller either received a busy signal or an automated message to call back.

Canada Revenue Agency 20140623
Auditor General Michael Ferguson says 30 per cent of callers to the Canada Revenue Agency call centres receive erroneous information. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The audit found "traffic teams" in each centre were tasked with ensuring calls were picked up in two minutes.

CRA said callers preferred to be blocked than remain hanging on the line, but did not provide any evidence to support the claim.

Calls to CRA support centres were up 27 per cent between 2012-2013 and 2016-2017, largely due to tax legislation changes including the Canada Child Benefit.

"This audit is important because call centres are a key source of information. If taxpayers cannot get timely access to accurate information, they may file incorrect returns, miss filing deadlines, pay too little or too much tax (and later be subject to reassessment), or miss out on benefits they are eligible to receive," Ferguson wrote in the audit.

During his news conference, he said the implications of doling out wrong information are severe.

"I think we just have to assume that if people are getting wrong answers, then sometimes they are filling out the tax return based on those wrong answers," he said.

National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said the government is responding with a three-pronged plan that includes improved training, modernized technology and increased service standards.

Auditor General says CRA didn't consult on wait times1:17

Gaps in training were cited as a key reason for erroneous information being routinely handed out to individual and business taxpayers. The government said it plans to bring in new technology in 2018 that's designed to improve the call centre efficiency.

Other key audit findings:
■Syrian refugee resettlement: Auditors found the government largely lived up to its commitment to provide services such as language training to the more than 40,000 Syrian newcomers, but did not collect enough information from the provinces to measure key indicators like access to health care and school attendance.
■Royal Military College of Canada: Auditors found the college is not cost-effective, and that the prevalence of misconduct incidents involving senior officer cadets shows the RMCC had not prepared them to serve as role models for their peers.
■Oral health for Inuit and First Nations: The government spends $200 million a year on oral health services for these populations, but has never finalized a strategic approach to help improve it.
■Women prisoners: Correctional Service Canada is not providing enough timely and effective programs to help women offenders successfully reintegrate into the community and continues to place some with serious mental illness in segregation.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2017 7:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Think of it as a "make-work project'.

Aren't those old punch card machines in storage in Hull? Maybe you could get a system that your people know how to run if we went back to 1965!

Now there isn't any paper involved. Some electronic blips go to your account. You go to the machine in the wall and get some paper, which disappears back into electronic blip form as soon as it goes through a cash register.

If it were just making sure the right blips appear in the right accounts, this could be solved. I think there's more involved than that. What does the Pheonix pay system do that is more complicated than some simple calculations, keep records, and transfer currency to bank accounts?

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 4:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It could be years before Phoenix works as advertised: Qualtrough

By Kathryn May. Published on Nov 28, 2017 6:41pm

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough waits to appear before a committee on Government Operations and Estimates in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood

Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough says she is “hopeful” the malfunctioning Phoenix pay system can be stabilized and paying Canada’s public servants accurately and on time by the end of 2018.

But Qualtrough said the “state-of-the-art” pay system that the federal government thought it was building when it launched the $310 million pay project eight years ago could still be years away.

“If by fixing, will we have a state-of-the-art, integrated HR to pay process? Then, that will take multiple years,” Qualtrough told MPs on the Commons government operations committee.

Qualtrough made her first committee appearance Tuesday since Auditor-General Michael Ferguson released his damning report concluding that fixing Phoenix will take years and cost far more than the $540 million earmarked for the pay system over the next several years.

Qualtrough said the fact that it will take years to fix a system that has left more than half of Canada’s public service facing some kind of pay errors is “unacceptable.”

But she said there is much debate within the public service about what fixing Phoenix means. She said stabilizing Phoenix over the next year won’t mean the system will be working as it was meant to.

Qualtrough said she is hesitant to set a deadline after the government missed its original – and self-imposed — target of clearing the Phoenix backlog by October 2016. When pressed by the NDP to say whether she would resign if Phoenix isn’t stabilized within a year, Qualtrough said she would amend that target if it turns out it can’t be reached.

“I would hope if that goal was not achievable that it won’t come as a surprise by the end of 2018, so I would be forthright and honest and amend my estimation if it becomes apparent that goal cannot be met,” said Qualtrough.

Qualtrough has insisted the government remains committed to fixing Phoenix but that all options — including replacing Phoenix — are on the table. The government is planning to complete a report on the cost of Phoenix and other options by next May.

For now, the government says it has has no choice but to stick with Phoenix because 300,000 public servants still have to be paid.

Qualtrough’s testimony followed a parade of witnesses before the public accounts committee who were called to field questions about Ferguson’s report. MPs called the the Phoenix rollout “incompetent” and pressed for answers on who was to blame.

Qualtrough assured MPs the government is pursuing a four-part action plan with about 20 measures that will be implemented between now and 2019 to stabilize Phoenix.

“I am confident we are headed in the right direction. We have to continuously improve this system. There is just no alternative,” Qualtrough said.

“Time will tell if that confidence is well placed.”

In the short term, the focus is on eliminating the backlog of 520,000 transactions and implementing the collective agreements — which have taken much more work and resources than the government expected.

The government will be hiring more people to help plow through transactions. The government is trying to hire another 300 staffers and hopes to have 1,500 working on compensation by January.

Bureaucrats told the committee the transaction backlog could still grow and won’t be tackled in earnest until early 2018, when the collective agreements are largely completed and tax slips are issued to all public servants.

Qualtrough said the government is now taking a “whole of government” approach to fixing Phoenix, tackling policies, processes, technology and training.

Qualtrough said the government also is working on a study of the “root causes” of the Phoenix debacle. She argues a big factor was the government failing to understand the scope of the project.

The new plan revolves around a ‘HR to pay’ approach that is at the centre of a new training program and a review of all pay policies and processes.

The approach recognizes that pay and human resources are linked. Human resource transactions trigger payments, so they are central to paying employees properly.

Months into the pay crisis, the government realized the extent of the errors and problems caused by data being entered improperly — largely because no one had been trained on how to use Phoenix with the separate HR systems used by departments.

Ferguson said his biggest concern about the ‘HR to pay’ approach is that the government is taking on more complexity and risks as it’s still trying to solve problems with the current system.

“Moving to a HR to pay … expands the scope of the project and they need to understand the risks taken on,” said Ferguson.

Qualtrough said she recognizes the complexity but she said Phoenix will only work if its connected property with HR systems.

Qualtorugh also signalled her openness to reviewing with unions the 80,000 pay rules embedded in collective agreements. These rules made it difficult and expensive to customize the PeopleSoft software used as the basis for Phoenix.

She said Treasury Board could embark on a review of rules in the next round of bargaining, which begins with contracts expire next summer.

NDP MP David Christopherson questioned IBM’s liability for the Phoenix fiasco. Public Services Deputy Minister Marie Lemay said IBM did the work it was asked to do and said the problems rested with the “project manager” — the government.

“Throughout the project, IBM has done what we asked them to do,” she told the committee.

Phoenix is the system that IBM customized for the government out of Oracle’s off-the-shelf PeopleSoft software. All employees are now paid by Phoenix — but the way pay is processed is a mixed bag.

Qualtrough said the government has since changed its contracting with IBM so it is delivering on “outcomes” the government wants rather than simply completing tasks.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 30, 2017 11:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A $billion? When do the heads start to roll?

There is something very wrong here. First, who, in the civil service, set up this contract. If these guys did that in some countries, they'd push them out of an airplane at 5000 feet.

Presumably, this program was set up to save money?

We could call in the Royal Canadian Politicized Police. Look at what a terrific job they did in the Mike Duffy case. But can we rely upon them? For anything? Let's say that's "iffy'.

But there is criminality here. Or a breach of trust, or something. The heads have to begin to roll. Otherwise, it'll only become a precedent for future outrages.
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fixing Phoenix pay system could cost $1 billion

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