The District government mismanaged a new $13 million computer system that is supposed to track personnel and payroll records for the city's employees, the U.S. General Accounting Office said yesterday.

Since it began operating in August, the system has had numerous problems printing accurate checks, first for D.C. firefighters and most recently for city teachers. Some teachers didn't get checks at all and protested last month outside the offices of the D.C. financial control board.

The city set up an emergency help desk to issue special checks to teachers who were not paid properly, and complaints have subsided. However, the glitches have set back the city's plan to have all employees on the new system by the end of this year.

The GAO, a congressional watchdog agency, concluded that the computer system suffered years-long delays in part because D.C. officials did not prepare adequate plans to purchase, install and maintain the equipment. The system was first proposed in 1991, but plans for it stalled when the District's financial crisis hit shortly afterward.

"The District did not develop and implement basic management processes that are designed to help ensure that the system can be implemented within realistic time frames and will meet the District's personnel needs," said the GAO report, requested by Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.).

Istook is chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District. He declined to comment yesterday.

The GAO's Jack L. Brock Jr., who wrote the report, was especially critical of the city's lack of planning to maintain, operate and protect the personnel system once it is fully implemented.

He said there is no security plan, even though the system will contain sensitive employee records that should be kept confidential.

"The District has not estimated the cost of maintaining [the computer system] or even decided how the system will be maintained," the report said.

The accounting agency's report included several recommendations to improve the system's planning, maintenance and security.

The District's chief financial officer, Valerie Holt, did not dispute the need for better management of the system, and she said the District has started making changes. A new project manager was hired to establish a plan covering the operation, maintenance and security issues the GAO raised, she said.

The GAO remains skeptical, however. While the District's actions are encouraging, Brock said, implementing needed changes "will be challenging, given the poor track record of the District in making improvements to its management of information systems."

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), chairman of the government operations committee, said the GAO report underscores the need for the city to consider putting all of its computer technology under its chief technology officer. That would streamline purchasing and management of information systems, she said.

Currently, Holt oversees the personnel and payroll system, while the chief technology officer, Suzanne J. Peck, supervises other technology matters.

"The . . . lesson here we need to address across the government is the need for a single protocol for systems development and acquisition," Patterson said. "The chief financial officer has to be integrated within the chief technology officer. We'll be looking at this."

CAPTION: Chief Financial Officer Valerie Holt said the District is making changes.