The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

August 12, 2013
California payroll overhaul vexed by complexity, poor oversight

20111102_ha_JoHN_CHIANG0365-AMEZCUA.JPGController John Chiang's office spun an upbeat message about efforts to overhaul the state's aging payroll system for years, while behind the scenes the massive IT project was in disarray, according to a new state analysis released this morning.

The report by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes this morning concludes that officials running the now-defunct 21st Century/MyCalPays project kept pouring money into the program despite clear and early warnings from insiders that the program was foundering on many levels:

"These basic, core problems included the state's payroll complexity, data conversion, staff vacancies, organizational change management (the process of teaching and selling the new system to existing staff), the absence of a quality assurance team, and an inability to stay on schedule ..."

The report is the first official public post-mortem on the 10-year, quarter-billion-dollar twice-failed effort to modernize the state's payroll system. Chiang inherited the project from his predecessor, former State Controller Steve Westly.

Senate investigators examined the program from the state management side and concluded that cultural resistance to change also hampered the project. For example, some departments -- "CalFire, the State Water Resources Control Board, Caltrans and, surprisingly, the California Technology Agency" - fell behind schedule for adopting the payroll management system, the report notes.

Meanwhile official updates to the Legislature "often lacked candor, sugar-coating some problems and ignoring others. This failure to be transparent compromised legislative oversight and stymied accountability."

A message left with Chiang's office was not immediately returned this morning.

The oversight report's release comes ahead of a Thursday hearing that Sen. Richard Roth's Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee will be conducting on the 21st Century Project.

SCO Payroll Project Report, Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes

PHOTO: California State Controller John Chiang. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

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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


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