Postal Service rolls out new pay system

The U.S. Postal Service recently completed the rollout of a new payment system for more than 700,000 employees, eliminating paper time sheets.

The Time and Attendance Control System (TACS), completed in July, replaces five antiquated and disparate timekeeping systems and allows officials to manage employees' activities.

"For the first time, we have time and attendance information of all our employees in one location," said Donna Peak, vice president of finance and controller. "It's huge with the number of employees and system users."

Although the older systems paid employees correctly, they weren't integrated, Peak said. One system, the Postal Source Data System, was used for more than 25 years. TACS cuts out the last of the paper time sheets and relies on electronic badges that USPS employees swipe when they begin the workday, start a certain operation or change locations.

"We were buried in paper to the point where storage was a problem in some respect," said John Behan, a Postal Service accountant in revenue and field accounting.

The $40 million project is expected to save the Postal Service money by reducing the number of employees who deal with paper time sheets. The position known as timekeeper was entirely eliminated, reducing the workforce by nearly 1,000 people, Peak said. The return on investment is expected to be more than 70 percent, she said.

The system, based on Oracle Corp.'s financial management software, is also expected to increase workforce efficiency, because officials can track where employees are and when they are there. "We know what they're doing," Peak said. "We can evaluate and analyze the productivity. We have aggregate information that we can [use to] do comparisons from one plant to another."

The research for a new system began in 1997, when USPS officials began testing products and the overall vision, Behan said. Officials recognized they needed a system that could accommodate the 170 largest postal facilities, which were running the Postal Source Data System. The system could then be tailored for the tens of thousands of smaller post offices.

TACS was rolled out in phases, from February 2001 to July 2003, beginning with the largest postal facilities. The smaller, rural offices that do not have Internet access rely on touchtone phones for reporting data, which is entered directly into TACS.

Officials recognized a need for a new system nearly a decade ago, Peak said. In 1994, there was a massive crash of the Postal Source Data System, affecting the pay for 100,000 employees. "We knew the time was running out on that system," Peak said.

The challenge to implementing the TACS system was "the variety of operations, the variety of our employees in the large facilities," Behan said. The pay system is further complicated by the rules and regulations specified by each union. The TACS system automatically accounts for those guidelines, Behan said.

Sally Davidow, communications director for the American Postal Workers Union, said although she supports advances in technology, she remains concerned about data entry of time records.

"We do have concerns about it," Davidow said. "We're not opposed to the use of technology in our work. Our concern has to do with [the fact that] the input of the time records is done in large part by the supervisors. It means a lot more people getting into the system and being responsible for records."

She said a supervisor may be in charge of 20 people, for example, and need to input information such as changes to times or amendments to codes. Previously, time clerks entered that data , she said. Having more supervisors doing the work opens the door for more errors, she said.

Davidow also noted that the Postal Service has been using electronic timecards for employees for many years.

Postal Service officials have surveyed users and said the response has been positive, Behan said. "It's very easy to use," he added. "You run the gamut of responses, but statistically they were very positive."

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Paperless timekeeping system

The U.S. Postal Service began developing a paperless payroll system for time and attendance, called the Time and Attendance Control System, in February 2001.

Designed to reduce system support and administrative costs, TACS replaces five systems, including the Postal Source Data System, which has been used since the late 1960s.

A brief timeline of the initiative:

2001: TACS replaces PSDS.

2002: Other systems are replaced; 690,000 employees are paid through TACS by year's end.

2003: The Rural Time and Attendance System converted to TACS in July.

Source: U.S. Postal Service

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