Ad check: Most RI state workers do fill out paper timesheets

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block’s latest television ad claims state workers fill out paper timesheets only to have those entered into a computer by other employees. Officials say for the most part, the claim is true.

In the spot, Block boasts the practice wastes millions of dollars and “makes no sense.”

In an email, Allison Rogers – the director of policy for the R.I. Department of Administration – said there are approximately 40 state employees that handle data entry and payroll functions “across the Executive Branch agencies, as well as within the centralized Division of Human Resources.”

“The 40 [full time employees] equivalents represent some dedicated personnel, along with others who spend only a percentage of their time on this,” Rogers wrote. “That is, while some payroll data entry is performed by staff within the agencies, it tends not to be their primary job responsibility in the agencies.”

State officials can’t say how much it costs to process paper timesheets but Rhode Island’s Chief Digital Officer Thom Guertin said roughly 3,000 state employees enter their timesheets into a computer system directly, leaving nearly 10,000 others putting pen to paper.

Guertin said three of the state’s 15 major state agencies are currently electronic, and they are working on getting the rest of the state up to speed.

“I’ve been in this office for a little over a year and a half and it’s a project that has been around from before I came in,” Guertin said. “It’s certainly not any kind of political or even union or business process. It’s something that needed funding the time and someone to be able to drive it.”

The state is in the research phase of the project according to Guertin – who has been tasked with spearheading the transition – with hopes that they will be out to bid in the fall. He said it will take about a year from then before they start transferring state agencies from paper to digital.

“For some people it will be entering time on a webpage,” Guertin said. “For some it will be the swipe of their badge, for others it potentially could be a reader at whatever location their in … and others it will be a smart phone and enter time on that.”

In the television ad, Block promises to be the savior to get the state off its paper habit stating “the insiders and politicians won’t change these practices but I will.”

A claim Guertin said isn’t accurate since the state is already working on it. Block said he was unaware a project was in the works, but said he is still the one best suited to see it through.

“I’m a tech guy, I do large systems,” Block said. “I am the guy most capable of dealing with a problem like this and making sure we can solve it.”

Guertin said the upgrade will “definitely save money” but the savings won’t come through lay-offs. He said they would allocate those workers to areas where help is needed.

“Even the people in each agency that do this type of work, it’s not 100 percent of their time, they’ve got other parts of their job they’re doing,” Guertin said. “They’re not dedicated to just data entry.”

He said they have contacted other states and government agencies for advice on the transition, and paper timesheets are not an “only in Rhode Island” situation.

“It’s safe to say there are many other states and other large city and county governments that still do paper-based time reporting,” said Guertin.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim

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