Despite best attempts to keep processes accurate, human error is inevitable. As past events demonstrate, this is especially true for spreadsheets. From local election results to national government programs, here’s a roundup of the most recent egregious spreadsheet errors made.
Canadian Revenue Agency Spreadsheet Mistake Causes 50% Cut in Business Subsidies
CRA’s spreadsheet-based application for emergency wage support contained a mistake in one field. Instead calculating benefits over two weeks, it was limiting coverage to one week. This and another error occurred despite the CRA’s rigorous testing and quality control measures.
Residents Undercharged for Sewage Due to Wrong Spreadsheet Column
Residents of Berne, New York were undercharged for sewer service by the town assessor, leaving the district short nearly $35,000. Instead of using the full sewage tax amount, a spreadsheet column containing a partial tax amount was used. Residents are faced with having to make up this payment in addition to their taxes in 2022.
Percentage of Trash Sent to Incinerators Reported Higher Due to Spreadsheet Error
In Essex, England, the Southend government council reported that 45% of the area’s trash was being sent to incinerators. The actual number was 9%. Specifics were not provided, but the council blamed a spreadsheet error as the cause.
The error was corrected, but the damage had already been done. It sparked debates from local environmental groups and the general public about the government’s recycling efforts.
Excel Error Causes Inaccurate Local Election Results in Iowa
In Jackson County, a $1.34 million physical plant and equipment property tax levy (PPEL) went up for vote during the local election. The unofficial results were read to a county staff member who then input them onto a spreadsheet. The data on this spreadsheet was used on the website to give locals a quick update on results. The county’s website showed the PPEL passing with a 53% approval.
Two days later, the local audit office found an error when tallying actual election results. The spreadsheet had an incorrect formula for the PPEL vote. When corrected, the PPEL received only a 46.3% approval, short of the required 50% to pass.
The Impact of Excel Errors
These recent instances involve government organizations at various levels. The errors, while ranging in severity, have caused reputational harm and lowered public trust in each organization. The communities these agencies serve have all been affected. While these mistakes were clerical and likely at the bureaucratic level, elected officials in charge could potentially face challenges in re-election bids.
And while there’s a lack of corporate news at this smaller scale, errors do happen. Smaller errors are business as usual for most organizations. When large errors occur (think London Whale), the impact is much larger.
Public and private companies alike must take note. Errors in the business world could be further reaching, hurting customers, employees, and investors. Moreover, regulators may impose fines and other enforcement tools to punish sloppy controls.
This leads to increased scrutiny of the business and further financial burden. Namely, budget will need to be allocated/ increased for the following:
- PR to repair goodwill in the company
- Staff to manage governance and compliance
- Staff to handle internal audits
- Potentially hiring an outside firm for help
- Training material and programs to educate employees
- Supporting technology to ensure risks are managed accurately and efficiently