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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

City Audit: $14.2 Million Software System Actually Cost Us $47.4 Million

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 6:59 AM

A new city audit released this morning rips Portland government a new one over its botched roll-out of a payroll software system that was supposed to cost $14.2 million but wound up socking the city for some $47.4 million—and counting!—instead.

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Check out a link to the report, prepared by the office of City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade, right here. It's another black eye over a project that has long been a source of grief for Portland leaders.

The audit blames the overrun on flawed estimates and weak leadership (the project was tinkered with mid-stream, and warnings and lessons from previous software rollouts were ignored). It also notes that the system—meant to process, among other things, payroll for the city—was put in place months later than expected and has failed to handle all the jobs it was supposed to handle.

“They underestimated from the beginning in the complexity and the cost,” Griffin-Valade told the Oregonian (in a story that compares the system to the city's "budget-busting" aerial tram).

The project was conceived in 2004, under then-Mayor Vera Katz, and approved after managers provided too-good-to-be-true estimates about how much the system would cost ($14.2 million), and how long it would take to put in place (14 months, with work starting in 2006). But by mid-2008, under Mayor Tom Potter, the software still wasn't fully in use, and it's projected budget climbed as high as $49 million. (The system, which remains flawed, finally went live last summer.)

According to the audit, the project's initial budget was based on an outside estimate, touted by managers, that didn't account for higher consultant costs as well as other expenses, like buying new hardware. The city didn't confront those omissions until after work had begun—despite the estimate "clearly" stating that "it did not include these items," the report says.

Oh, and that $47.4 million figure? Even that's not the final reckoning. The city has yet to compute how much it has paid, over the years, to employees whose time has been spent troubleshooting and setting up the computer system. Whoops.

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