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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

Jon Ortiz

The State Worker: The perils of government transparency

Published: Thursday, May. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 28, 2013 - 8:45 am

A $14.6 million piece of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget highlights a classic government tension: the benefits of transparency vs. the consequences of being transparent.

Brown has proposed spending the money in 2013-14 to clean up the smoldering mess left by the MyCalPays project, the payroll overhaul that the state axed after a series of miserable test runs.

The funds would go to Controller John Chiang's office. Chiang dumped the system in February after an eight-month test run fouled up 1,300 employees' pay nearly every way imaginable, including wage underpayments and overpayments, employee-insurance and pension deduction errors and missed child-support payments.

After a decade and $267 million, taxpayers got a payroll system that's not quite as reliable as a 7-year-old's promise to clean his room once he's finished the video game.

The controller would use the money to reconcile the mistake-riddled records in the new system with the old payroll system, sort of a high-tech Humpty Dumpty.

Chiang has laid the blame on SAP, the second MyCal- Pays contractor he's fired in four years. The tech firm says it lived up to the terms of its $90 million contract. The dispute will probably wind up in court and could take years to resolve.

If Chiang prevails, the state could get 150 percent of the contract amount, about $135 million. SAP will counter that Chiang dumped the deal for the sake of convenience and that SAP should get up to $55 million for work that was under way.

This is happening while the state builds other massive computer system projects with a total estimated cost approaching $5 billion. They could save far more than $135 million by learning from MyCalPays mistakes, according to a new review by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

"We feel (the savings) could pale in comparison," said Chas Alamo, one of the legislative analyst's budget experts. But the budget doesn't include money for an independent audit.

Here's the tension: A condemning audit could put a dent in Chiang's armor as he revs up a 2014 run for state treasurer. A bad report also would surely hobble his side in a court fight.

"Conversations with project staff" and zero dollars for an audit led the analyst to conclude "that the administration has prioritized its legal efforts over such an assessment."

Waiting for lawyers to settle the argument could take years, the analyst's review says. Meanwhile, state employees who know MyCalPays from the inside are leaving for other jobs and won't be available to auditors later.

Chiang spokesman Jacob Roper said the controller welcomes an audit and noted both state and private entities tracked the payroll project to the bitter end.

But the timing of a review hasn't been set, Roper said, before he circled back to Chiang's don't-blame-me message: "The controller is committed to holding SAP accountable."

Call The Bee's Jon Ortiz, (916) 321-1043. Follow him on Twitter @thestateworker and read his blog, The State Worker.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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