Don Martin: Fixing Phoenix may be all but impossible
A public servant holds a sign imploring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resolve problems with the Phoenix pay system, during a protest outside the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
It always seemed so inside baseball, a big problem for the public service but not a pressing concern in the real world.
Tens of thousands of federal employees, many of them young people living hand to mouth, weren’t being paid the right amount at the right time.
For the majority of Canadians slogging along in low-paid, pension-deprived, insecure, private-sector jobs, sympathy was in short supply.
But the federal government’s severely boondoggled Phoenix payroll system has now reached the level of implementation disaster that’s cause for national taxpayer alarm.
The government dropped another 93 million deficit dollars into this money pit system in Tuesday’s fiscal update to hire more people to find a fix – a bandage move which exceeds the $79 million the system was initially designed to save every year.
That’s twice the emergency funding the government allocated to helping those affected by the BC wildfires and four times the new money dedicated to boosting airport security or fortifying the walls around government against cyber attacks.
But as the months go by and a growing backlog of about 350,000 botched interactions with the failing system, sources confide a smoothly functioning payroll system could still be years away.
Whispers from high in government say it’s become a constant time-consuming preoccupation of the senior bureaucracy, crowding more important items off the agenda.
The Senate has simply given up on Phoenix and has set out to search for a replacement. The House of Commons might not be far behind.
The latest working theory is that a coding mistake almost at the system’s inception is coming back to haunt the program, neutralizing fixes and rendering a cure all but impossible without going back to a relaunch.
If you want to glimpse the future of Phoenix, a $5.7 million mess now coming in at a $200 million price tag and escalating, look down under.
In Queensland Australia, a $6 million payroll and human resources system, also launched by IBM, mushroomed into a $1.2 billion debacle before the bleeding stopped. A Commission of Inquiry blasted it as the “worst failure in public administration in Australian history.”
That suggests a Canadian payroll system introduced to save money and manpower could have a long way to fall. This bird-brained Phoenix may yet have to be reduced to ashes before it rises again.
That’s the Last Word.