Interior, HHS and GSA jump on HR bandwagon

The Interior Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and the General Services Administration are rushing to upgrade their human resources systems with the hope of selling the new services to other federal agencies.

Spurred on by outmoded systems based on 1970s technology, agencies are developing new systems that can manage payroll, store multiple personnel forms and records and allow an agency to customize personnel files with digital photos.

"We are taking computing to the next level as far as payroll and human resource systems are concerned," said Bonnie Muir, HHS' program manager for Federal Human Resources for the 21st Century. "We're really bringing about a revolution in the HR side of the business."

Each agency is at a different stage in developing new HR systems. But once the systems are operational, Interior, HHS and GSA plan to aggressively sell their respective HR services to other federal agencies—a marketing effort known as cross-servicing.

Cross-servicing is nothing new. For years, some agencies, including the Defense Department, have processed payroll and managed certain personnel records for other agencies. Some agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of State and Transportation, operate their own payroll systems.

The cost of hiring another agency to handle payroll and personnel records runs from $90 to $140 per employee, depending on the number of employees included in a system and what services the agency chooses, according to officials at Interior, HHS and GSA. That cost is less expensive than what many agencies pay or would pay to manage their own payroll.

Downsizing and tighter budgets will help to create a demand for the services as agencies cut overhead costs, albeit reluctantly. "The time has never been better to expand [cross-services] because resources are scarce and becoming more so," said John Hall, acting director for the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center in New Orleans. The NFC manages the payroll for about 500,000 federal workers.

Interior's Administrative Service Center (ASC) in Denver, which manages the payroll for several agencies, including the Energy Department and the Federal Trade Commission, plans to roll out its new Federal Personnel Payroll System this summer.

The system, which will be more flexible and transportable than ASC's current batch-oriented system, will allow employees to update their own personnel files. The system also will track personnel actions, retirement and health benefits, reductions-in-force rules and forms required by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Personnel Management.

The system lets users make inquiries and create employee profiles. It also will be much faster, updating new information within minutes rather than overnight.

HHS recently completed work on a similar system, which will automate almost all personnel information from an employee's hiring to retirement.

The new system is capable of storing employees' digital photos. Developed with Integral Corp. subsidiary InPower, the HHS system will add a payroll module by October. The agency plans to begin marketing the system to others next year.

GSA is overhauling its payroll system and plans to have a new PC-based system within 12 months. It also plans to develop a mainframe-based human resources system to track personnel data.

Officials at GSA, which already provides payroll services to 5,000 employees at agencies such as the National Archives and Records Administration and the EEOC, are planning to target smaller agencies in the future.

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