Senate looks to dump failing Phoenix payroll system

The Senate of Canada is going rogue by ditching the federal government's troubled Phoenix payroll system and building its own technology to make sure its employees get paid properly.

Senate of Canada seeks vendor to build new payroll system in wake of Phoenix fiasco

The Senate of Canada is seeking a vendor to build it a new pay system for its employees in the wake of the Phoenix fiasco. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Senate of Canada is going rogue by ditching the federal government's troubled Phoenix payroll system and building its own technology to make sure its employees get paid properly. 

A request for proposals was issued on the government's buy and sell site on Wednesday, seeking a "service provider to assume responsibility for payroll processing, as well as all related pension benefits for all employees of the Senate of Canada." 

Senate employees have been paid through the Phoenix system since April 2016. At the same time, the payroll program was also rolled out to dozens of other government departments and agencies. Since then thousands of public servants have been improperly paid. 

The Senate says its new plan to find its own payroll solution is in direct response to the problems the system has experienced, as well as the need for "overall autonomy" over its payroll. 

"The Senate takes the compensation of its workforce seriously," wrote Alison Korn, the Senate's issues management and media relations adviser, in an emailed statement. "In the last two years, the problems generated by the Phoenix system have negatively impacted the equality and standards of service the Senate sets for its employees."

Lack of oversight, accountability

A report commissioned by the federal government and published in early October found a lack of proper definition, oversight and accountability plagued the Phoenix payroll system from the start. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers have repeatedly called the Phoenix situation 'unacceptable.' (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It's a situation the prime minister and several of his ministers have repeatedly called "unacceptable," but just how and when the system will be fixed is unclear.

"While the Senate mitigated many of these challenges on its own, they continue to face unnecessary delays and errors as a result of the system. This is unacceptable to the Senate as a distinct and separate employer from the Government of Canada," Korn wrote.

Back in 2011, the government decided to customize existing software and consolidate its pay operations in Miramichi, N.B. It was hoped at the time that the new technology and centralized system would allow the government to lay off hundreds of compensation advisers across the country and eventually save about $700 million.

Millions spent 

There is no price tag attached to the Senate's request for proposals, but it will only add to the federal government's growing tally for a payroll system that is still in disarray.

Over the past year and a half, the government has announced about $400 million in new Phoenix spending. As more federal workers continue to receive incorrect pay, the government estimates the final cost for a system that may not function fully for years to come is inching toward $750 million.

Carla Qualtrough, minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, spoke to reporters on Oct. 5, 2017 about a report on Phoenix that she says shows the system was 'set up to fail.' (CBC)

An updated mandate letter from the prime minister puts fixing the pay of public servants at the top of the priority list for Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough. The letter states her job is to "ensure that public servants are paid accurately and promptly for the highly valued work they do on behalf of Canadians."

On Wednesday Public Services and Procurement Canada referred questions about the Senate's plan to get rid of Phoenix to the Senate.