Payroll Snafu Caused by Staff Error, Not Software Glitch
July 11, 2012 (The Santa Fe New Mexican) The recent New Mexico state government paycheck snafu, which initially was blamed on a software glitch, actually was caused by human error, Department of Finance and Administration officials told reporters Tuesday.
Department Secretary Tom Clifford said at a news conference that the bureau that handles the state payroll is short-staffed, and the existing staff is lacking in accounting skills. The problems were caused by a staff member failing to follow a checklist of things to do to avoid such an error, he said.
Asked whether anyone had been disciplined for the paycheck mishap, Clifford said, "I'm not even sure if discipline is even appropriate. It's the kind of thing where somebody was under a lot of stress, they were under a lot of pressure and didn't have a lot of folks around who could help. So we need to prevent that from ever happening again."
There are two full-time positions not filled in the payroll bureau, officials said. Plus, one person was out on medical leave when the mistake-filled payroll was run. Clifford said the department will be shuffling some jobs to get more people with accounting experience to handle the payroll.
The problem was caused by the bureau performing what is called an "out-of-cycle" payroll run in the middle of the pay period. This is something routinely done to make corrections.
When the next payroll was run, the system picked up anyone who had entered any hours worked. Clifford explained that employees can enter their hours at any time before the end of the pay period. Some enter the information every day, and some wait until the end of the two-week period.
But when the department ran the next actual payroll, the system assumed that people had been paid for the hours that had been counted in the "out-of-cycle" run. Thus, more than 7,100 state employees -- about a third of the total state workforce -- received less than what they were owed.
Despite complaints by several state employees about late fees and bounced checks caused by recent problems with the state payroll, state Controller Ricky Bejarano said at the news conference that none of the nearly 8,000 employees who were shorted on their paychecks have filed the paperwork to be reimbursed.
"We requested information from everybody because it's a case-by-case situation, specific to each individual," Bejarano said. "We requested documentation if they truly believe they've been harmed. To this day, I've not received any of that documentation."
A spokesman for the state finance agency said those who do have such fees should contact the human resources office of their respective agencies.
Officials said they believe that all state employees who were shorted have been paid.
The state will pay a company called POD $198,000 to be on site for six months to train payroll employees, Clifford said. That's in addition to the $45,000 paid to Oracle PeopleSoft, the company that owns the computer system, to investigate what caused the mistake.
No bid was issued for the POD contract, which was done under emergency procurement.
Clifford said these expenses are "an investment" to ensure no similar mistakes happen in the future. "We've been penny-wise but pound foolish," he said.
Clifford and Bejarano admitted that the payroll system, which was purchased in 2006, is not "state of the art." But Bejarano said the state doesn't plan to upgrade the system for another three years.