Comptroller’s role in fight: Keep funds flowing remotely

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – While a pandemic upends nearly all aspects of daily life and work in Massachusetts and many government functions move online, Comptroller Bill McNamara’s office is working to ensure that things like state employee payroll continue unfazed, and that payments related to the state’s coronavirus response are made as quickly as possible.

“We have great confidence in the continuity of our operations and our ability to work remotely,” McNamara, who took the reins of the state’s independent fiscal reporting agency mid-February, said Monday during a virtual meeting of the Comptroller Advisory Board.

Though much of his staff is working remotely, McNamara said his office continues to do its part to make sure state government runs smoothly and efficiently. He said he’s been talking with Treasurer Deb Goldberg’s office to speed up payments where it might benefit the state’s efforts to slow the growth in the number of COVID-19 cases and limit the spread of the virus.

“In limited cases where extreme emergency is required — I’m sure you’re reading today about the competition for the limited supply of protective medical equipment such as facemasks — we are working with the office of the treasurer to ensure that we can safely process payments even faster than our normal cycle,” he said.

Importantly for tens of thousands of state workers in Massachusetts, the comptroller said the state’s payroll system is functioning normally and that he does not expect any issues with payroll during the pandemic.

“The payroll function is also in a fully-good-to-go basis, so we anticipate no issues with processing payroll. We’re working with agencies to ensure that they have the ability to enter payroll and adjust,” McNamara said.

The comptroller said that, as of Monday, 84 of his office’s roughly 130 employees are working from home, mostly on state-issued computers and using secure VPN connections. He thanked Technology Services and Security Secretary Curt Wood for making “great progress in providing additional VPN capability through a new VPN service because those services have been under great strain for the past two weeks too, as you can imagine.”

In the coming days, the comptroller’s office is expecting to get 17 more employees set up at home with state computers and security, either by arranging to deliver the computer to the employee’s home or by having the employee come into the Boston office briefly to pick up a computer.

McNamara said his office expects it has the resources to get another roughly 20 employees up and running with remote access, bringing his office’s total home-based workforce to roughly 120 people. He said that effort began last week.

“Our primary goal, in addition to continuing the core functions, was to expand our base of people who are able to work from home with full productivity and with optimized security. If you had been here on our floor that accommodates 120-plus people, you would have found essentially five to 10 people last week, depending on when you came in,” McNamara said, “and we’re looking now to get that even lower.”

McNamara said he wanted the transition from former Comptroller Andrew Maylor to his own leadership to be as smooth as possible for the comptroller’s office, without a significant change in focus for the agency. On Monday, he said he hopes that can continue through the pandemic and unusual work conditions.

“This is not a time to stop work or change priorities,” he said.

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