The federal government is still working to clear a backlog of pay files linked to the beleaguered Phoenix pay program, with officials providing no estimate for when the system will return to a “steady state.”
The latest update from Ottawa came on Wednesday, with the deputy minister of public services and procurement answering questions about the progress made over the last two months.
Marie Lemay, who has held a technical briefing every few weeks since the program’s meltdown last summer, assured reporters that work to fix Phoenix has continued over the winter. She acknowledged that there is still a backlog of around 8,000 files that need to be handled.
“We continue to work toward the elimination of our backlog,” Lemay said, noting that the majority of the remaining cases involve transfers and “acting assignments” in the public service.
Of the 8,000 employees left in the backlog queue, she said, 5,000 have had at least some transactions closed and are waiting on others. The federal government has a total of around 300,000 people on its payroll.
“We are working hard (to clear) the remaining transactions as quickly as we can, but we’re dealing with very old files,” the deputy minister said.
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In some cases, compensation advisers working for the department must research an employee’s pay history then manually input that information into Phoenix. It can take a full day to complete just one of those files, Lemay explained.
“This is a challenge that we’re facing with the cases in the backlog,” she said.
The backlog has diminished by about 2,000 files in the last month. According to Lemay, the government has continued to prioritize transactions that are critical for the end the fiscal year.
People who were overpaid, for instance, need to have their accounts sorted before they are taxed for the additional money they were handed.
By February, the department hopes to post information for employees that will set out service standards so they will have an idea of normal processing times.
At the moment, Ottawa isn’t meeting its 20-day service standard for new pay changes and requests, which are instead taking around 10 weeks to process.
The Phoenix pay system was rolled out in February 2016, but a steep learning curve and deep backlog of existing files led to a meltdown that affected tens of thousands of federal public servants.
The government has estimated it will cost $50 million to get things back to normal. Lemay said Wednesday that it’s likely that tally will increase.
As the crisis comes to an end, she added, her department is “more than ready” to investigate what went wrong with Phoenix. Lemay said she expects to find multiple “points of failure.”