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California Can't Perform Pay Cut Because of COBOL

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the handwaving-only-gets-you-so-far dept.

Programming 1139

beezzie writes "Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered a pay cut, to minimum wage of $6.55/hr, for 200,000 state workers — because a state budget hadn't been approved yet. The state controller, who has opposed the pay cut on principle and legal grounds, now says the pay cut isn't even feasible because the state's payroll systems are so antiquated. He says it would take six months to go to minimum wage, and nine months more to restore salaries once a budget is passed. The system is based on COBOL, according to the Sacramento Bee, and the state hasn't yet found the funds or resources, in ten years of trying, to upgrade it." The article quotes a consultant on how hard it is to find COBOL programmers; he says you usually have to draw them out of retirement. Problem is, if there were any such folks on the employment rolls in California, Gov. Schwarzenegger fired them all last week, too.

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i knew it (5, Funny)

halfEvilTech (1171369) | about 6 years ago | (#24483959)

This brings back memories of when we picketed our COBOL professor christmas party with signs of:

"COBOL raises taxes"

we couldn't have been more right

Re:i knew it (5, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 6 years ago | (#24484071)

PWN3D YR PAYROLL.

I wonder if the guy who maintains the COBOL is sitting in an SF jail right now - he'll only tell the Mayor what the name of the right functions are..

COBOL. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24483971)

There are plenty of COBOL Programmers out there, the problem is nobody in IT wants to hire old people.

Re:COBOL. (5, Insightful)

taniwha (70410) | about 6 years ago | (#24484047)

no - the problem is that no one wants to be paid minimum wage to program COBOL

Re:COBOL. (5, Insightful)

drpimp (900837) | about 6 years ago | (#24484153)

no the problem is social security pays more so why go back to 40 hours weeks of coding at that rate!

Re:COBOL. (5, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | about 6 years ago | (#24484401)

No, the problem is that someone put a T-800 series Terminator in charge of California!

All the state's COBOL programmers have to work around the clock just to keep that early-80's piece of shit working.

Re:COBOL. (1)

stretchpuppy (1304751) | about 6 years ago | (#24484239)

Yup. Not when you can make [your salary]x2 growing legal marijuana.

A quote from Arnold himself: "It's not a drug, it's a leaf."

I think the only industry :)

Re:COBOL. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484251)

Can't they outsource it to India?

Re:COBOL. (4, Interesting)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about 6 years ago | (#24484261)

Define old. My Step Grandfather was a COBOL programmer. He's 86 now. You really shouldn't let him near anything electronic. He retired in the early eighties and hasn't kept up with any developments in the field. He doesn't know what a database is. Or Unix. He knows the IBM 360 pretty well though. So if they develop on it using IBM cards, he might be able to help.

If you ask me, this is all payback for the original design of COBOL. If they had just extended FORTRAN and required any one interested in looking at code to have a 3rd graders grasp of math, California wouldn't be in this position and existing COBOL programmers wouldn't have to lie about their development language when talking to other developers.

Actually, this story is about how California can't screw their state workers to make a political point, right? I guess COBOL wins after all, but they really should have made the syntax a little more like befudge.

Re:COBOL. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484393)

My Step Grandfather was a COBOL programmer. He's 86 now. He...hasn't kept up with any developments in the field. He doesn't know what a database is. Or Unix. He knows the IBM 360 pretty well though.

Sounds like a typical COBOL programmer to me.

Re:COBOL. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484329)

the problem is nobody in IT wants to hire old people.

You are right and the situation is even worse with more engineering oriented firms. Age discrimination in software/hardware is rampant and out of control. Partly it is institutional but often it is that the average 35 year old manager isn't even aware of his prejudices.

Re:COBOL. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484385)

I graduated with a BS in IT in 2000 and took at least two COBOL courses. My first job was working for an insurance company writing and maintaining COBOL.

Programmers? (5, Insightful)

SgtPepperKSU (905229) | about 6 years ago | (#24483973)

Why would you need a programmer to change people's pay in the system?

Oh, wait; you don't. This is just more politics...

Re:Programmers? (4, Insightful)

Sebilrazen (870600) | about 6 years ago | (#24484013)

Why would you need a programmer to change people's pay in the system? Oh, wait; you don't. This is just more politics...

Job security? They(the bureaucrats) didn't know that it could be done without a programmer, so the programmer did it so they'd need a programmer.

Re:Programmers? (5, Insightful)

Lord_Frederick (642312) | about 6 years ago | (#24484269)

I've seen how government applications are coded. The majority are either built by someone that can program but not engineer software and the rest are built by the lowest bidder. I find it perfectly feasible that a simple change will break the entire system.

Re:Programmers? (5, Funny)

Lord_Frederick (642312) | about 6 years ago | (#24484395)

Hell, where I work now we're having problems because a particular CBT REQUIRES a floppy disk. Nobody can get the money to have the CBT code changed. The new computers don't come with floppy drives and the old computers are required to be taken out of service. Emulation software can't be used because it won't pass the "approval process" and putting a floppy drive into a new system voids the maintenance agreement.

Re:Programmers? (1)

gfxguy (98788) | about 6 years ago | (#24484017)

Beat me to it... computer nerds can get away with just about anything using tactics like this. Such crap.

Re:Programmers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484109)

And you would know all about this...why?

Re:Programmers? (4, Insightful)

oldspewey (1303305) | about 6 years ago | (#24484019)

It is possible that the code actually is that fucked up.

Re:Programmers? (4, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 years ago | (#24484207)

Yes, but I would need a high degree of evidence to show me what a pay rate change would require reprogramming.

And I work with a COBOL system.

Re:Programmers? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484303)

I work with a COBOL system

How soon can you get on a plane to California?

Re:Programmers? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484129)

Seems to me the people who should get their pay cut are the governor and legislators. They're the ones who haven't produced a budget.

Don't give them back pay either - every day there's no budget is another day they lose a payday - forever. That might encourage them to get their job done on time.
 

Re:Programmers? (1)

dave562 (969951) | about 6 years ago | (#24484371)

Amen brother.

Re:Programmers? (4, Interesting)

bestinshow (985111) | about 6 years ago | (#24484203)

It's clearly 1960s and 1970s code. It probably has the pay rates hard-coded in, rather than using a database, because back then memory was expensive and logic had to be compact.

Re:Programmers? (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about 6 years ago | (#24484287)

I'm sure by now inflation would have made this obsolete a long time ago. What was minimum wage in 1970?

Re:Programmers? (5, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | about 6 years ago | (#24484293)

Sometimes you really do. Often, with really old systems like this, data that ought to be in tables is hard-coded in the system, sometimes in really obscure places. Or the code may only support pay *increases* because nobody thought there'd ever be a pay decrease for a government employee. (Seriously.) If you've ever worked on a project to replace an antiquated system, especially for a utility or government entity, you'd be shocked at what you saw. It's amazing that anything works at all.

Job security? Incompetence? Micro-management? Probably a combination of all three.

Re:Programmers? (1)

quadrox (1174915) | about 6 years ago | (#24484327)

My first thought was that the system was somehow set to only allow a certain maximum change in payrolls. This might mean that they can only reduce the pay by a certain amount each month, or something like that. Such a system would likely be set up that way to prevent exactly what the Governor wants to do, possibly for social security purposes or similar.

The only thing I don't understand is why such a system would be setup in the US. In Europe and especially denmark (where I live) I could understand this, because we care a lot about welfare, but not in the US.

Great programming job! (5, Funny)

mveloso (325617) | about 6 years ago | (#24483987)

The programmers of California have created the greatest payroll application of all time. You can only raise salaries, not lower them. Ingenious!

Wrong! (5, Funny)

gfxguy (98788) | about 6 years ago | (#24484081)

They created the worst payroll application of all time... it takes 50% longer to raise them back!

Re:Great programming job! (1)

p0tat03 (985078) | about 6 years ago | (#24484089)

You can only raise salaries, not lower them. Ingenious!

Note that it takes 6 months to lower wages, but 9 months to restore them :) Clearly this means the most profitable move is to pay everyone nothing!

Re:Great programming job! (1)

jeremymiles (725644) | about 6 years ago | (#24484425)

It's easy to lower them - every value gets lowered to $6.55. It's hard to raise them, because you have to put them back to the correct number.

I'd guess that was the case with raising / lowering. You might be able to raise/lower by a percentage, or a particular value, but maybe you can't lower everyone to the same value.

rule #1 (5, Insightful)

pak9rabid (1011935) | about 6 years ago | (#24484001)

If you're going to pull a lame excuse out of your ass for why a decision can't by fulfilled, don't make it known that you're against said decision.

Read in an Arnold voice: (5, Funny)

Missing_dc (1074809) | about 6 years ago | (#24484003)

I need a COBOL programmer, who is your daddy and what does he do?

Re:Read in an Arnold voice: (1)

JavaLord (680960) | about 6 years ago | (#24484083)

My daddy IS a COBOL programmer! It would take a lot of cash for him to move to California though.

Re:Read in an Arnold voice: (5, Funny)

4D6963 (933028) | about 6 years ago | (#24484119)

Your COBOL programmers. Give them to me. NOW!

Re:Read in an Arnold voice: (1)

Pontiac (135778) | about 6 years ago | (#24484165)

In all honesty he's a former Cobal and Fortran programer on mainframe systems.
He's retired so it'll take lots of $$ and remote access to get his interest.

Uhh... (4, Interesting)

jhfry (829244) | about 6 years ago | (#24484009)

I have never seen a payroll program that has the wages hardcoded in it... there is no reason that this can't be done... she simply doesn't want to.

Re:Uhh... (2, Interesting)

SQLGuru (980662) | about 6 years ago | (#24484095)

It's pretty obvious that the data is not stored in a relational table and they need someone to interpret the datafile format in order to write an "update" statement that saves off a copy of the current pay and then restores it later. I'm not sure why it would take 9 months to then undo that work......if they don't have a COBOL programmer, how can they get valid estimates? I know that anyone who tries to estimate my database work screws it up.

Layne

Re:Uhh... (1)

gfxguy (98788) | about 6 years ago | (#24484365)

I read the article... it would take nine months to give back pay to those who went to minimum wage until the budget passed...

So, I can see if it's that difficult to lower that calculating back pay would be a bear...

I just have no reason to believe, having programmed in COBOL, that it could possibly be that bad. Let's face, it they should be able to install a new system in less than 15 months.

Re:Uhh... (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 years ago | (#24484243)

Contrary to my previous post, I can think of A plausible scenario :
Retirement calculations.

Re:Uhh... (1)

taniwha (70410) | about 6 years ago | (#24484429)

plus the fact that eventually, when the budget gets sorted, everyone will need to get back pay so they'll need to do all the book keeping now to make sure no one misses out, and then, as they mention, the work to cut the checks later

Re:Uhh... (1)

kalirion (728907) | about 6 years ago | (#24484399)

The wages might be encrypted and no one knows their way around the COBOL decryption code?

Re:Uhh... (5, Insightful)

isomeme (177414) | about 6 years ago | (#24484403)

I can easily picture a system that encodes rules about pay grade differences derived from huge piles of laws, union contracts, and so forth. Changing everyone's pay to the same low level would violate all kinds of intertwined constraints and validation checks, and thus be rejected. I imagine the time quoted to make this change is due to the need to work around these cross-checks without eliminating them entirely, as most of the time (i.e., when the governor isn't posturing) they are quite useful to help avoid illegal or improper changes.

The original Sky-Net programmers (1)

psybre (921148) | about 6 years ago | (#24484011)

...must have been written their security code in Cobol. No wonder its inevitable.
~psybre

When you pay minimum wage for labor... (5, Insightful)

janeuner (815461) | about 6 years ago | (#24484025)

...expect minimum wage results.

Problem is not lack of programmers.... (4, Insightful)

snkline (542610) | about 6 years ago | (#24484031)

The problem is not lack of Programmers. The problem is managers who think a developer needs many years of experience with a specific language or technology to be able to work with it. I am sure many programmers would be willing to work on their COBOL systems, but without the required "10 years of experience with COBOL" on their resume, they would never be hired.

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (2, Insightful)

p0tat03 (985078) | about 6 years ago | (#24484117)

I am sure many programmers would be willing to work on their COBOL systems, but without the required "10 years of experience with COBOL" on their resume, they would never be hired.

And what happens when your amateur COBOL hackers bork a live, production system upon which tens of thousands of people rely on for their paychecks?

This isn't some lame Java app that's allowed to crash 5 times a day...

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (1)

Seakip18 (1106315) | about 6 years ago | (#24484335)

Agreed, but those arcane/idiotic hiring practices may have kept somebody less experienced who applied a few years ago from getting hired on and getting to know the system while the old timers chugged away till retirement/firing.

Expecting to hire an expert who fulfills your requirements for only $40K-$60K in California is really insane. I don't know the payband for CA. That's just going off what I've seen so far in the South East.

I believe that State Personnel Boards are hurting our agencies more than helping.

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (1)

burris (122191) | about 6 years ago | (#24484347)

Do non-amateur COBOL hackers work on live production systems? Hell no, they work offline and test before changing production. Just like hackers who use languages other than COBOL.

Maybe there is something about COBOL that makes you lose all your previously accumulated skill and experience once you start using it.

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484353)

And what happens when your amateur COBOL hackers bork a live, production system upon which tens of thousands of people rely on for their paychecks?

That PM gets fired for letting the dev test against a live system.

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | about 6 years ago | (#24484135)

Of course, I'd never just jump into a COBOL codebase older than I am as my first COBOL project. Likewise, only a fool unleashes a bunch of COBOL noobs on a codebase without at least a couple old hands to ride herd.

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (1)

hardburn (141468) | about 6 years ago | (#24484175)

Then you can go work on them if you want. You couldn't pay me enough for the job, regardless of whether managers would hire me for it.

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (5, Insightful)

gfxguy (98788) | about 6 years ago | (#24484191)

The problem is this person is lying. Seriously, wages change all the time; probably at least once a year people get reviewed and get raises; you're going to tell me there's a 9 month backlog?

And why on earth would it take 50% longer to raise them back up again? That makes absolutely no sense.

There's only one obvious conclusion: the state controller is lying.

Mod Parent Up (1)

pragma_x (644215) | about 6 years ago | (#24484381)

Here's the way I look at it.

Pragma's Rule #1 of life: *never* cost someone more money than it takes for them to get rid of or replace you.

So nobody in their right mind would go through with this if they want to stay employed anywhere in the state. So they've provided an impossible project schedule as an estimate for this task. But hey, they never said it couldn't be done. Its just really hard to do. Game, set, match.

Meanwhile, the State Controller has a mortgage to pay...

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (1)

jwiegley (520444) | about 6 years ago | (#24484411)

Actually, as a CA state employee I can tell you that yes, it might just take 9 months or us to do anything.

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484431)

"And why on earth would it take 50% longer to raise them back up again? That makes absolutely no sense."

The increase would be retroactive. It would take longer to restore wages although the exact estimate of 50% can be debated.

Re:Problem is not lack of programmers.... (2, Insightful)

someme2 (670523) | about 6 years ago | (#24484323)

The problem is not lack of Programmers. The problem is managers who think a developer needs many years of experience with a specific language or technology to be able to work with it. I am sure many programmers would be willing to work on their COBOL systems, but without the required "10 years of experience with COBOL" on their resume, they would never be hired.

True. A lot of programmers wouldn't need 10 years of experience in COBOL. May be ten years of experience in any programming using different languages and paradigms would be enough. On the other hand some programmers would need 10 years of experience in COBOL to be able to work on a given job.

A lot of managers can't tell the difference, luckily some do. The others have to rely on matching buzzwords on offered CVs to buzzwords on RFQs.

he's not an attorney (3, Informative)

KernelMuncher (989766) | about 6 years ago | (#24484033)

From the article: "He [State Controller Chiang] disputes Schwarzenegger's legal interpretation of a 2003 California Supreme Court decision," Chiang is the State Controller, not an attorney. It's not his job to give legal interpretation on Supreme Court decisions. His job is to execute the orders of states executive branch, Gov. Schwarzenegger. It sounds like the Controller is letting his personal beliefs interfere with his professional responsibilities. That's a quick route to unemployment.

What? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484035)

A story about firing employees and Ahnold and you didn't use "Terminated"?

I'm not sure whether to be relieved or outraged.

Re:What? (1)

4D6963 (933028) | about 6 years ago | (#24484177)

A story about firing employees and Ahnold and you didn't use "Terminated"?

You must be confusing him with the Comb-overator.

LOL (3, Funny)

nebaz (453974) | about 6 years ago | (#24484039)

This is a delicious irony here. It's great. It's almost enough to coin a phrase "Don't attribute reprieve from malice to that which can be explained by incompetence."

Re:LOL (1)

arotenbe (1203922) | about 6 years ago | (#24484183)

"Don't attribute reprieve from malice to that which can be explained by incompetence."

... what?

Take ours (4, Funny)

otacon (445694) | about 6 years ago | (#24484043)

We have about 20 Cobol programmers. We still run CISC and what have you. You can have them. Cheap.

Ibvious solution (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484045)

Just Terminate a percentage of those state employees.

Sounds like B.S. to me (4, Insightful)

Critical Facilities (850111) | about 6 years ago | (#24484051)

OK, no one likes programming in COBOL, but to argue that these systems can't be updated because the language is obsolete is just an all out lie. Plenty of major corporations still use COBOL/CICS because it just works.

If (as someone above stated) a programmer is required to update what should undoubtedly be database fields containing salary information, then it sounds like a problem of implementation, and not one of technology/language of choice.

Re:Sounds like B.S. to me (1)

xTantrum (919048) | about 6 years ago | (#24484155)

i think dice.com [dice.com] would probably agree.

Re:Sounds like B.S. to me (1)

hardburn (141468) | about 6 years ago | (#24484295)

If (as someone above stated) a programmer is required to update what should undoubtedly be database fields containing salary information, then it sounds like a problem of implementation, and not one of technology/language of choice.

I'm willing to believe that the system really is that bad. Regardless, blaming it on the implementation rather than the language doesn't change the fact that the system can't readily support this change.

It could end up being political hot air, but is just as likely to be true in this case.

Re:Sounds like B.S. to me (0)

MBCook (132727) | about 6 years ago | (#24484359)

No kidding. I had a semester of COBOL in college. It was bad. I'd never touched such a primitive computer language before (or after). I'd prefer assembly to COBOL. I understand that next to no one works in COBOL anymore. But let's get serious here.

The article says that California has spend 10 years and $117 million trying to replace their payroll system and haven't really touched it at all.

I'm a Californian (technically). So I'll make you a deal California: I'll program it. I'll do the whole thing for peanuts. Let's say $200,000 a year. With what you've spent I could work on the system for 585 years.

Heck. How about a one time payment of $150,000 and then $0.05 for every paycheck an employee gets. That's fine too.

Will my payroll program be perfect? Nope. But I can make a simple program that does the basics and I can make it work. I can keep expanding it for you. You can switch new blocks of employees over some at a time as I add the features you need for them. You can have people manually cut checks for the rest (or just keep using the old system). For the amount of money you've spent it seems like this has to be workable. I'd think my ideas could be done for a few years and still cost less that what's been spent already.

Heck, make a bunch of students at one of the Cal. Tech. or UC(something something) do it. Make the grad students do it. It would be a great real world project. Plus you've got all those professors who know what they are doing and have had experience working on designing big systems like this (right?). Compared to your 10 year $117 million dollar mess, how bad could it be?

Heck, buy QuickBooks. Pay Intuit $50 million and they'll probably have the perfect system for you ready to go right now.

These projects always end up so terrible. I don't know why the government doesn't just toughen up the "if you ever get paid" clause in the contract. If no one has fixed it, sue for your money back. This style where each company did something but it didn't fix it so they all get paid and nothing useful ever came out hasn't worked very well. If you make the completion side of the deal juicy enough, some big company that can afford the risk will do it and do it right.

I also agree with other posters. I could change it. Let me at it. All I have to do is change some constants. Since they are getting smaller, there won't be any overflows. Then we can run test cases (or just run tests with the real payroll a few times) and we'll see if it works. How much could that possibly cost? Certainly not 10+ months of time. Reverting back to the current wages should be as easy as a redeploy since we know that code is working already.

Aren't bureaucracies fun?

This guy is a Hero (1)

GogglesPisano (199483) | about 6 years ago | (#24484407)

BS or not, the State Controller should be commended for defying the Governator.

For Schwarzenegger to deny the rightful wages of thousands of working people is despicable. I'm sickened to see yet another filthy-rich, hopelessly-out-of-touch pol try to screw over the masses simply for the sake of political theatre.

Its not because of COBOL (4, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | about 6 years ago | (#24484093)

Its because of poor coding skills.

Convenient scapegoat there they have.

Should just fire everyone (5, Interesting)

OrangeTide (124937) | about 6 years ago | (#24484103)

It's a lot easier to just fire them with the software is what they are telling us.

Seriously if California is in a budget crisis how will they pay firefighters and hospital staff? You can pay everyone full wage now and in 10 months stop paying EVERYONE entirely.

In a business with this kind of budget problem you simply lay people off. People who work for the state are up in arms over this, but I've been laid off a number of times. You just fill out your unemployment insurance paperwork and get like 1/4 to 1/2 your salary after a few weeks, and look for a new job in the meantime.

I'm not sure why unions act like every person should be guaranteed a job. What universe you have to live in for things to be so certain?

Re:Should just fire everyone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484309)

I'm not sure why unions act like every person should be guaranteed a job. What universe you have to live in for things to be so certain?

One where a person's very existence depends on him having money. Oh, wait.

Typical thinking in our goddamn society these days. Who cares if other people don't have a job as long as I'm rich? Great attitude there.

Re:Should just fire everyone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484375)

There were a LOT of lay-offs of part-time workers. A few of my friends are students working part-time for CalTrans and are currently out of work right now. If they wanted to collect unemployment, they'd have to go through a whole process and essentially quit their job. This makes it a pain to get re-hired when the new budget is passed.

Re:Should just fire everyone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484415)

They aren't in a budget crisis.

The governor is attempting to strongarm a budget through.

Noones pay is being cut, they make minimum wage until they get a budget approved then all their backpay.

There remains some question on the legality of this, but it certainly isn't crystal-clear.

Time-consuming? (5, Funny)

the_duke_of_hazzard (603473) | about 6 years ago | (#24484105)

"Forrer said the system has tens of thousands of lines of code, so it is time-consuming to find and replace salaries for each job classification on an individual basis." Ummm...... they should have a look at the 30million line codebase I support. I'd love to give _that_ excuse.

Re:Time-consuming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484409)

the 30million line codebase I support.

Is that why your name's 'the_duke_of_hazzard'? :)

Doesn't pass the smell (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484111)

I bet this same system has no problem with timely INCREASES in pay rates.

This state controller needs to be fired (3, Insightful)

LuxMaker (996734) | about 6 years ago | (#24484133)

From Wikipedia on California state controller duties: [wikipedia.org]

* As the state's chief fiscal officer, acts as the state's accountant and bookkeeper of all public funds.

* Administers the state payroll system and unclaimed property laws.

* Serves on numerous boards and commissions including the Board of Equalization, the Board of Control, CalPERS and CalSTRS.

* Conducts audits and reviews of state operations.



I posit that he has failed to administer the state payroll system and as such needs to be canned and replaced. Part of administrating the system is making sure it is flexible enough to meet the demands of the California Governor.

can't find COBOL programmers? (2)

burris (122191) | about 6 years ago | (#24484147)

How come the programmers already employed by the state haven't learned COBOL yet? What kind of programmer can't learn a language like COBOL and start figuring out how to fix the system? Why can't they find programmers on the market that are willing to learn COBOL and fix their system?

Sounds like the state has serious IT management problems.

Nothing was learned or documented during Y2K? (1)

pillageplunder (183475) | about 6 years ago | (#24484151)

Wow, if this is a COBOL system, you mean no one took the time and energy to document the system and all of its glorious parameters during the ramp-up to Y2K? I'm shocked...SHOCKED to hear that a bureaucracy would waste such a golden opportunity as the Y2K scare to look long-term and decide that hey, as long as we're in the process of vetting code, why don't we document it as well?
And yes, there are already those out there jumping up and down pointing out that fixing a year from a two digit to a four digit format is way different than figuring out how to reprogram an ancient computer language. Gotta love the State Government, home to Silicon Valley, too myopic to even consider upgrading something as non-essential as a payroll system.
This is hilarious! Oh, not for the folks stuck with having to deal with the fall-out, to the rest of the country, OMFG is this funny!

Re:Nothing was learned or documented during Y2K? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 6 years ago | (#24484389)

They didn't have enough time during the Y2K work.

BTW, they are developing a new system. 2009 is it's current go live.

decorator pattern (1)

boxlight (928484) | about 6 years ago | (#24484187)

This sounds like a typical "we have to re-write everything" attitude I hear from a lot of programmers who have to work with legacy code.

They have an application that calculates the salary. They don't need to change anything in the existing application, all they need is to "decorate" the app with an additional wrapper that rolls back the salary the appropriate amount.

Done.

Sheesh (1, Insightful)

RyanFenton (230700) | about 6 years ago | (#24484199)

The rate the guy's firing people lately, you'd think they'd nickname him the 'terminator' or something.

Really though - this is a perfect example of modern conservatism: Destroy people's reliance on government by promising anything to be elected, then do absolutely everything you can to destroy everything that government does or provides. Soon, everyone sees politicians only as lying bastards (but still elects those who make the best promises), but no longer sees government as something that can actually help anyone do anything.

The end result is a society that distrusts everyone, and a private sector which can pick off opportunities from an enormous set of basic needs that are being unmet.

Government doesn't even need to be drown in the bathtub [wikipedia.org] - indeed, it might be reborn in a different form if you did that. This way, you get to keep it in a permanant coma, feeding off of everyone's needs and desires and blaming generic government for everything you do.

Ryan Fenton

Re:Sheesh (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | about 6 years ago | (#24484299)

And the alternative is to promise nothing and not get elected. Or you can pander to unrealistic and immoral requirements from people who just want Free Shit, give it to them, and find out that socialism starts to break down after a while. Watch what happens in Europe over the next 10 years to see the eventual outcome. "Oh, shit, we are broke!".

COBOL flashback (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | about 6 years ago | (#24484211)

Let's see, should I allocate sectors, tracks, or cylinders for this post.....

I think the controller is blowing smoke out a major orifice. I am sure that they had no problem getting the minimum pay raised in the system at the last change. What a load of crap.

Not as lame as people are thinking... (3, Insightful)

mlwmohawk (801821) | about 6 years ago | (#24484217)

Sure it *sounds* ridiculous to say you can't lower salaries without a programmer, but I bet it is a fairly complex batch program that has to run. You don't want people hand entering 200,000 payroll changes. If it takes 30 seconds (on average) to do each one by hand, that would be 41 weeks for a person to make all the changes. (assuming a 40 hour work week)

Don't forget, the good governator is probably payed by that system too and you know HIS pay ain't going down.

So, not only is it a HUGE number of data entries AND a complex filter on job classification. ALSO mistakes are something you don't want to make on payroll!

Re:Not as lame as people are thinking... (5, Funny)

Etcetera (14711) | about 6 years ago | (#24484337)

Don't forget, the good governator is probably payed by that system too and you know HIS pay ain't going down.

The Governator is getting paid an annual salary of $1 a year. If his pay went down any further you'd probably end up with a divide by zero error somewhere.

Re:Not as lame as people are thinking... (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | about 6 years ago | (#24484349)

It is ridiculous. Even done manually, have 20 people work on it and they can do it in a few weeks. Realistically, hire 2 Smart People who know how to program, even if not in Cobol, and it can probably be done in 1 week. There is no conceivable electronic payment system they can use that can't have this done in 2 weeks. The problem just isn't that hard.

As for the governator, do you think he cares about his meager governor pay all that much? He's loaded.

Open source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24484221)

Maybe they should be using one of the many open source payroll applications that exist?

Sourceforge has a few:

http://sourceforge.net/search/?type_of_search=soft&words=payroll [sourceforge.net]

Very skeptical (1)

J.R. Random (801334) | about 6 years ago | (#24484231)

I suspect the bureaucrat just doesn't want to cut his pal's salaries. I doubt that even a COBOL program has each employee's salary hard coded into the program. If they don't have to reprogram the accounting system every time state employees get a raise, I doubt they really have to reprogram it to lower their salaries.

COBOL for Dummies (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | about 6 years ago | (#24484245)

man COBOL

Something.

I suggest they simply take off and write out checks by hand. It's the only way to be sure.

"COBOL programmers know why women hate periods."

Hard Coded Constants (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | about 6 years ago | (#24484253)

Probably all the pay rates and realated deduction amounts are hard coded in the application. I have seen this lots of times in government.

Re:PS I am a COBOL Programmer (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | about 6 years ago | (#24484289)

And just because you are in such a bind I will give you a real deal on my services.

What a crock (1)

dodgedodge (166122) | about 6 years ago | (#24484281)

First of all, COBOL was still being taught 20-25 years ago so there should still be plenty of CS people around that can do it.

Second, if they can't adjust pay, how do they do raises every year??

JC.

ask the controller again (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 6 years ago | (#24484297)

how long it would take, if instead the system was giving him a raise

2 days, tops

I call BS... (2, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 6 years ago | (#24484315)

I'll give $3 to the first person who can explain to me why on Earth you need to edit the software to change people's salary (Ok, I probably won't give anyone money even if you do come up with a decent reason). Even if they had to individually change each entry, it just doesn't make sense; if you put 100 people (seems like a reasonable number to me) working full time on the project in 6 months you have about 100,000 work hours. So they're trying to say it takes a half hour to change one person's salary? I don't care how antequated the system is, that is unnacceptable.

Somewhere, the current program is storing the salary data in some kind of file. Hire a high school CS student to parse the file, edit it, and save it back. I'm willing to bet a competent programmer could find some solution to this problem within a week. This is just the state controller trying to stick up for his employees; unfortunatly, he's too much of a wuss to do it the legal way and has instead turned to blattant lies that most people are too uninformed to see through.

Re:I call BS... (1)

RandoX (828285) | about 6 years ago | (#24484427)

$3.00? That's almost 1/2 hour's pay!

Ob. Cobol quote (3, Funny)

slapout (93640) | about 6 years ago | (#24484317)

"A computer without COBOL and FORTRAN is like a piece of chocolate cake without ketchup or mustard." --John Krueger

The problem is.. (5, Interesting)

faedle (114018) | about 6 years ago | (#24484377)

Those of you saying "how hard can it be to write a couple of lines of COBOL" are probably underestimating the problem.

If all they had to do was just lower people's salary to $6.whatever per hour, that wouldn't be the issue. The problem is they have to account for the ACTUAL salary the person should be making, because once the budget is passed they will have to pay all those people back for the salary that's owed.

So, there's a big issue here. They have to calculate their salary like they would anyway, and then pay them minimum wage for the number of hours actually worked (because I'd guess a number of State employees are "exempt"), remember how much they SHOULD have been paid and how much taxes SHOULD have been taken out, record that information, and then print out a check.

In a modern programming language with a modern relational database, no problem. In COBOL with an obsolete non-relational DB, perhaps even one with 80-column mindset? Yeah, right. Good luck with that.

Pffft. No problem (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 6 years ago | (#24484379)

For a measly 10,000,000.00 I guarantee to fix the system so that the 200,000 people's salaries are lowered to the minimum wage within only 15 days. I will restore the original code from a backup tape once it needs to be done in a day or so.

So, Terminator, how about a contract? ;)

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