The Oct. 14 Metro article "$34 Million Fails to Fix D.C. Payroll Computers" and the Oct. 15 editorial "A $34 Million Flop" used broad attacks to condemn a sincere effort to improve a crucial city function.

No modern commercial payroll system in existence today can handle the District's compensation system as it's structured. It was this recognition that finally prodded the city's leaders and the unions to work together to rationalize the city's absurd pay structure. Once that process is complete, true progress can be made.

As a result of labor negotiations and changes in statute, the city has more than 200 pay tables and 70 premium pay types for more than 30,000 employees. For 20 years, the city has relied on UPPS, its original payroll system. Contrary to the articles, UPPS has never produced a payroll that was late, but it uses old and inefficient technology and is expensive to maintain.

In the early 1990s, the District began an effort to introduce a modern payroll system, CAPPS, which was based on an off-the-shelf software package. Several years were spent on its development, but the amount of customizing that was required ended up compromising the system, leading to errors and malfunctions.

After considerable review, the contractor implementing the system was terminated for default of contract, and in August 2000 my office halted the implementation of CAPPS.

CAPPS needed to be maintained until all employee accounts could be transferred back to UPPS, but when UPPS was placed back into District-wide service, it needed to be updated. All of this work had to occur while paychecks were generated, new labor agreements were implemented, retroactive pay raises and bonuses were issued, and employee arrivals and departures were processed.

These are daunting tasks under the best of circumstances, and the lack of any major outcry from employees during the past two years shows that this office managed the difficulties successfully.

NATWAR M. GANDHI

Chief Financial Officer

Government of the District of Columbia

Washington