Calif payroll system so antiquated pay cuts may not be possible

So claims California State Controller John Chiang who says he will refuse to implement temporary pay cuts ordered by Gov. Schwarzenegger, but that he couldn’t do them anyway because the payroll system is a 70’s fossil written in COBOL and any such changes would take months to implement.

In a ironic twist, some formerly retired state employees who were working on the payroll system were laid off last week by order of the Terminator. I’m guessing if he wants them back it’ll be as consultants on their terms at, oh, $150 an hour or so.

Among other things, I’ve been a database programmer. While Chiang could be bluffing, I doubt it. I used to program in DOS in Clipper and still sometimes get phone calls from companies who have an ancient Clipper program from 1988 that is mission-critical and they can’t find the source code, desperately need a change made, and can I help. Well gosh, maybe you should have upgraded it 10 years ago?

California has tried to modernize its payroll system throughout the past decade, dating back to former Controller Kathleen Connell. It has faced numerous delays as state legislators have avoided investing the $177 million it now will cost.

If the original programmers are no longer available, then moving to a new system gets much more complicated because it’s not always obvious what the code is doing and why. Also, you need to convert all the data to the new system, and that can be extremely arduous. Most important of all, this is a payroll system and it must work perfectly because employees get really cranky if the computer shorts their pay.

It’s looking more and more like Schwarzenegger shot himself in the foot on this. Good.

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