Phoenix, We Have A Problem

“The building and implementation of Phoenix was an incomprehensible failure of project management and oversight… Overall, we found that there was no oversight of the Phoenix project, which allowed Phoenix executives to implement the system even though they knew it had significant problems.”

Canadian Auditor General Michael Ferguson

Holy crap, we are screwed.


One of the main irritants for me during the US Government shutdown were the human interest stories about the civil servants not being paid, and the struggles they faced. Do not get me wrong, it is horrible – and I truly felt for them. I could relate to them because I am still suffering from the dumpster fire known as the Phoenix Pay System.

To see CBC, Global, and CTV News breathlessly reporting each plot twist, and human cost story regarding Trump’s shutdown was a real slap in the face for me. It is hard for me to feel anything other than ambivalence about Trump Shutdown Day 24, when I am going on Day 900+ of not receiving my full pay due to a preventable government error.

I do not want to get into a full explanation of Phoenix (you can find that here and here) and what went wrong, plenty of ink and bandwidth has been spent giving you a historical explanation of Phoenix, and laying blame. I will show the theory and reality of Phoenix, and explain the human cost through my story – the one Canadian media is still not telling.

The theory of how the Phoenix Pay System should have worked.
The reality of Phoenix

The truth is, the Phoenix Pay System was a parting gift of the Stephen Harper Conservatives on it’s way out of office to a civil service that did not support him electorally. He bought a lemon that he was warned about, understaffed it, and did not provide adequate resources for training employees on the system.

Yes, the Trudeau government also has it’s share of blame – but by the time it took office, Phoenix was a done deal and was coming online for better or worse. Those of us who work in government knows that the bureaucracy does not change direction like a speedboat, but rather like a glacier being pulled by a tugboat. While I wish the government had better prepared for the disaster that they knew was approaching, I have always felt that a majority of the responsibility for Phoenix falls on the Harper Conservatives.

I am not looking to discuss this on a political level. It is too fresh for me. How can I have an objective conversation about the political optics surrounding Phoenix when I am owed close to ten thousand dollars in back pay? How can I have a constructive debate about fault regarding Phoenix when the stress of missing pay has caused me to go on medication for high blood pressure, or sometimes causes issues in my marriage.

That’s the human cost of ill considered government decisions. I am not a bumper sticker or political slogan – I am a father with a child who was in university and getting married and another child who is going to school in less than two years. The financial gymnastics that it has taken for me to ensure my son’s marriage could happen as planned, or paying for the most basic of life surprises has been Olympian. There is no dollar amount that I can put on the human cost of this folly, but the amount of debt I am now under because of Phoenix is a very real cost that keeps growing.

I realize that it could be worse, and other people have it far worse, but I am not other people. This is my reality.

I tolerate the stereotypes and jokes about working in the civil service, and while i chafe about being used as a political straw man by conservatives and a public who do not understand how hard we work – I understand it.

What also goes underreported is how hard we work, even without being paid. We show up and do not take our frustrations out on the people we serve. I understand the importance of the work I do, and I check all baggage at the door when I log in. There is no one in media telling our story, no heart wrenching tales of financial woe still being experienced by those affected by Phoenix. We are not being sent pizza by politicians like the unpaid American civil servants during the Trump shutdown. To me, it seems no one cares about us.

I am thankful to everyone who has been there for me, and for my family. It truly has taken a village to get through this. I do not want to get into details, but without my mother and my mother and father in law – we wouldn’t have made it to this point.

Everything passes, and so someday so will this, but the lessons learned and the grudges earned will not. I am only human.


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Political Potshots

@ThatsMrNeil, known as Neil Before Zod in the Twitterverse is a recovering political staffer, blogger, and podcasting pundit. He posts at Progressive Bloggers and at Disclaimer time.

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