Comptroller Wilson trashes Tennessee's Edison payroll system

Comptroller Wilson trashes Tennessee's Edison payroll system

May 21st, 2009 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE - State Comptroller Justin Wilson urged the Bredesen administration Wednesday to freeze continued implementation of Tennessee's new $135 million computerized payroll and accounting system, citing employee and management surveys showing widespread dissatisfaction.

Nearly four out of 10 state employees responding to the survey trashed Project Edison, while 58 percent reported it was worse than the old system, Mr. Wilson told lawmakers.

"What we've learned over the last month has been troubling," Mr. Wilson said of the findings, presented to the General Assembly's Fiscal Review Committee. "Edison is supposed to be performing tasks that are critical to the integrity of state government. And it's not right for our state employees to have their payroll and benefits entrusted to a system that's not functioning properly."

Mr. Wilson acknowledged his findings are not an audit and the survey is not a scientifically random poll. It relied on "self-selected" employees responding to e-mail requests sent to 40,941 employees. Still, Mr. Wilson noted 15,795 state employees responded, and he urged lawmakers to read 1,000 pages - many of them filled with specific complaints - posted by nearly 8,000 employees.

Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz, who previously downplayed the number of complaints, acknowledged "some issues" with the system and said the administration has "embraced" comments posted by nearly 8,000 employees to Mr. Wilson's Web site.

He also said the administration has retained a nationally recognized computer software firm to conduct an independent review beginning June 1.

But Mr. Goetz took "serious issue" with Mr. Wilson's calls to halt implementation of the system with larger departments such as the Revenue Department and Correction Department.

"The idea that we would put off the implementation of the last piece of financials is wrong," Mr. Goetz said. "The way the comptroller described that he doesn't believe adequate controls are in place is frankly exaggerated, and we know that. We dispute that strongly. We would not be implementing a system without adequate controls."

In a letter to the Fiscal Review Committee, an oversight panel that requested the review after employee complaints, the comptroller's office says 722 employees were paid twice for their longevity, an amount coming to $1.345 million.

Forty-six employees were paid twice on flexible benefits claims, totaling $13,379.40. In other cases, Mr. Wilson testified, employees have complained about the system failing to deposit pay into their banking accounts and being overcharged for insurance as well as other problems.

Mr. Goetz said many of the issues are common to the startup of any major computer system.

But in his letter, Mr. Wilson states "these problems clearly exceed what would be expected in a start-up. Furthermore, Edison's leadership has not adequately responded to the problems, and does not appear to comprehend the full nature and extent of these issues."