The federal government is struggling to clear a backlog of 8,000 cases of civil servants experiencing problems with their pay under the troubled Phoenix system and is failing to meet standard response times for new requests.

Marie Lemay, deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, said in Ottawa Wednesday that about 5,000 of those 8,000 issues are partially resolved but not complete.

The focus on clearing the backlog, which consists of cases filed before July 1, means that the government isn't meeting its 20-day standard deadline for new, incoming pay changes and requests, Lemay said.

It's still taking about 2½ months longer to deal with incoming pay requests. The department expects a "gradual return to expected service standards" as the backlog is cleared and workers can focus on new requests.

At the last briefing in December, the government said about 10,000 cases of current and former public servants having problems getting paid properly remain in the federal government's backlog, and the overall cost for fixing the Phoenix pay system this year could rise above $50 million.

But those numbers only represent the backlog of cases filed by the end of June 2016.

New cases piling up

Federal unions have said even more workers have come forward with pay problems since that time. And according to the department in charge of Phoenix, more than 13,000 top priority cases have emerged since July 1, 2016. These are employees who say they're either not getting paid or are being paid incorrectly because they went on leave or left the public service.

The government has not provided the number of lower priority cases filed since July 2016, including discrepancies in acting pay or overtime, for example. Those types of cases represented the bulk of the initial backlog of 82,000.

Phoenix, a computerized pay system, rolled out last February, leading to complaints by tens of thousands of federal employees. Some were underpaid, others were overpaid and some were not paid at all. 

The government originally gave itself a deadline of Oct. 31, 2016 to resolve all Phoenix pay issues, but didn't meet it. Lemay said Wednesday that it wouldn't be wise to set a new deadline, in part because the complexity of the cases surprised them. 

"We continue to work toward the elimination of our backlog," Lemay said.

Accountability

An evaluation of what went wrong will be handled by Treasury Board, Lemay said, adding that she hopes that will happen soon. The auditor general is also investigating.

"The tough part is, I don't know that there's going to be one point of accountability," Lemay said. "In projects like this, especially with an organization like ours, when you have the equivalent of 100 companies implementing a system ... there's going to be … multiple points of failure. 

"If the hope is to find one person [responsible], I don't think that's going to happen."

So far, 311 public servants government-wide have submitted claims to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses related to Phoenix, according to Alfred Tsang, executive director of the Treasury Board's claims office.

Of them, 79 are requesting amounts above $500, Tsang said.

Anyone else with a claim is urged to review what they're eligible to receive and submit a form, he added.