COBOL in California

The governor of California has declared that all state workers need to revert back to minimum wage until the budget is finalized for the upcoming year. There is one fatal flaw in this plan. The California payroll system was written a long time ago in COBOL. The developers are saying that they cannot make the pay cut changes quickly. Now this may be a big joke. If I had to implement a change that would make my salary minimum wage, I would take a few years to implement it. However there may be some actual truth to this story.

In general it seems tough to get good COBOL programs. A buddy of mine has made a career out of consulting to federal, state, and local governments. He comes in and does COBOL code maintenance for them. And he charges a pretty penny for it as well. The state of California looked into overhauling the system. The selected vendor quoted a price of $177M to do the job. And nobody knows whether that will be the actual price, or whether there will be cost overruns as there normally are.

It is not too uncommon for the state of California to keep such an old system alive. My own project is based on interfacing with a big monolithic system written in COBOL for mainframe computers. Yes there is a contract to modernize the code and rewrite it in C++. That project has had a lot of pain. The contractor is using a lot of subcontractors that work long hours and charge big bucks to support the effort. Nobody knows whether the project will eventually be a success or not. The problem is that the client cannot keep the old timers around to maintain the COBOL and even assembly language code.

There were a lot of interesting comments on the California payroll story. Maybe the California payroll needs to be outsourced to a company like ADP. It is agreed that the state probably already pays too little to the COBOL programmers. And you cannot forget that COBOL itself is a 40 year old language. Somebody posed the question that, if wages are dropped to minimum wage, what would happen if normal deductions take the net pay less than $0? It is quite funny that the COBOL programmers have the ability to code in their annual cost of living increases. Some die hard hackers said any programmer worth his salt should be able to pick up the COBOL programming language. However they people may not want to work for state wages. They definitely will not be willing to do so for minimum wage.