Phoenix payroll system under budget? Sounds like creative accounting to expert – Ottawa

The implementation costs of a payroll system that was delayed and has never worked properly actually came in under budget at a cost of $307 million, the federal government says. 

That figure is $2 million less than what the government projected several years ago — but it doesn’t include the multimillions earmarked for fixing Phoenix.

Over the past year and a half, the government has had to announce about $400 million in new Phoenix spending, and as more federal workers continue to receive incorrect pay, the government can only estimate its final price tag for an operation that may not function fully for years to come.

It is already inching up toward $750 million.

The rising costs and limited information from government has left MP Nathan Cullen, the New Democrat finance critic, “dumbfounded.”

“The tab for all taxpayers keeps going up,” Cullen said on Parliament Hill Thursday. “What is it finally going to cost us? It’s taking all of our effort just to drag basic information out of this government.”

CBC requested an interview with Carla Qualtrough, the minister of public services and procurement, but she was not available.

Roman Klimowicz worked in procurement policy at Treasury Board Secretariat before his retirement. (Julie Ireton, CBC)

Roman Klimowicz, a former principal analyst at Treasury Board Secretariat who was involved in huge procurement projects, told CBC News that information technology projects usually do cost more than first expected, but sometimes the government isn’t completely transparent about the final tally.

“Open up your kimono and tell everybody what happened and be truthful about it,” he suggests. “Whatever the amount, it’s probably a lot more than the amount that is published. It comes under creative accounting.”

How we got here

Bureaucrats initially proposed revamping the government’s aging pay system back in 2005. The first proposals were rejected by Treasury Board managers, CBC has learned. But by 2011, the department — then called Public Works and Government Services Canada — had a plan in place to create Phoenix.

‘The initiative will generate savings of up to $78.1 million per year across government.’
– Public Works document in 2011

Klimowicz said it was optimistic for bureaucrats to think the pay modernization project was actually going to save money.

“But you can’t get a project approved saying I’m going to spend $300 million and by the way, it can’t save us any money,” said…

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