POLITICS

Government memos on computer fixes causing even more problems: report

04/01/2015 10:33 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Staff in Ontario's welfare and disability support offices say government memos on how to fix ongoing, "weekly" problems with a $245-million computer system are causing even more headaches.

The front-line staff complaints are contained in an interim report, released Wednesday, on the problem-plagued rollout of the Social Assistance Management System. The Liberal government commissioned a review by PricewaterhouseCoopers, but the interim report draws no conclusions about the government's handling of the system that issues welfare and disability support payments.

The review, which comes with a nearly $200,000 price tag, is to be released with a final report in a few weeks, but will not address a number of key areas.

PricewaterhouseCoopers says its review does not cover an assessment of the project's performance since inception, does not assess the overall system or infrastructure performance of SAMS and will not provide an opinion on the "functional or technical readiness" of the system.

Since it was released late last year, SAMS has been experiencing issues, notably queuing up $20 million in welfare and disability support overpayments in December. The government has earmarked an extra $5 million to help with costs associated with SAMS problems such as staff overtime.

The ministry has addressed most of the 57 "priority" issues, and has had to start addressing system issues and defects on a weekly basis, the report says.

The government has made "considerable efforts" to communicate with front-line staff, the report says, but the authors heard from staff that those efforts have led to even more problems.

"Staff are so overwhelmed that even reading the fixes is a time," the report says.

Workers said they have had to contact IT to get an increase in mailbox size to accommodate the memos and the job aids are "too long and the language is too technical," the report says.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said the report acknowledges there are problems with the system and there is a lot more work to be done. She looks forward to the final report, she said.

"My hope is there will be some specific recommendations about how to move forward, but none of us is saying that there aren't problems, that there haven't been problems with the implementation of SAMS," she said.

The opposition parties called for Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek to resign over what they call the SAMS debacle. She said the most important function of the system is ensuring that payments are made to vulnerable families, and said there have now been five "successful" pay runs.

Progressive Conservative critic Bill Walker questioned the value of the report.

"Why would you have a report if you're not going to go back to the functionality and the reality of how to fix the problem?" he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the interim report is largely a recitation of problems front-line staff and their union have already detailed.

"The minister seems to think that calling in a consultant company to basically repeat everything eshe's already been told is good enough," she said. "It's not good enough."