- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The House of Representatives’ new payroll system temporarily canceled some employees’ jobs, mishandled paycheck withholdings and, in some cases, added extra money into staffers’ accounts over the last three months.

The House began using the new system this summer, but apparently did not work out all the kinks before going live.

Administrators have been flooded with calls as employees scramble to make rent payments, and the system has become a source of ire for some staffers and a joke among others, who say Republicans who control Congress tried to do the project on the cheap.

“It’s like the Bush administration — these guys just don’t seem to be into running the government,” one House chief of staff said.

None of the employees who spoke about errors in their checks wanted to be named for fear of retribution from administrators.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the Republican-controlled House Administration Committee, which oversees the chamber’s human resources operation, discounted reports of more than 1,000 employees with problems. But he did acknowledge 1,434 separate errors since July, including 674 that month, 377 in August and 383 in September.

“The House and its support staff in the [chief administrative officer’s] office are taking this very seriously,” Mr. Walsh said. “The CAO’s office regrets the errors that have taken place and is working as quickly as possible to resolve these problems.”

Some employees said their errors seemed to be the result of someone mistyping information when the system was changed — the type of error they said could have been caught with more testing.

Mr. Walsh said there were some data-entry errors, but most of them were fixed in July. He said most of the remaining errors are a result of a problem in software provided by an outside company, Lawson Software.

A spokesman for Lawson, which is based in Minnesota, did not return calls seeking comment.

The House system pays an average of 10,450 employees a total of $52 million each month. The error rate from July through September averaged 4.6 percent.

Even with the complaints, employees said the new system will be a good thing when it’s running properly. The old system did not allow them to pay for items such as flexible-spending plans, savings accounts for things like health care that are paid for with pretax income.

But the employees said House officials should have checked the system more thoroughly before going online, which might have helped them catch the data-entry errors at the very least.

“If they can’t handle sending out a few paychecks, how can they handle balancing the budget? It’s not rocket science,” said one House employee who has tracked some of the errors.

Among the problems staffers reported was that the system would sometimes incorrectly terminate employment, meaning those employees didn’t get paychecks at first and that their life insurance or thrift savings plans didn’t get their contributions.

In another office, an employee’s paycheck was credited to another staffer.

Mr. Walsh said officials did find a situation where if someone is being transferred and his or her paperwork “is filed too late,” the system would terminate the employee for the first pay cycle and then reinstate them for the next cycle. He said that problem has been fixed.

Republicans control House operations, and House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, has oversight. The chief administrative officer is James M. Eagen III, and phone calls to him from reporters are handled by Mr. Walsh.

Mr. Walsh said “extensive testing” was done before the system went live, and said the House inspector general signed off on deploying the system.

The inspector general’s office said it does not comment to the press.

Mr. Walsh said Lawson is fixing the software error free of charge.

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