Report backs joint personnel system

The Defense Science Board has strongly recommended development of a joint commercially based personnel and pay system for the Defense Department rather than the Navy system ardently backed for the past two years by Rep. Bob Livingston (D-La.) the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

A DSB report said the Air Force estimated that one commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) personnel system from Oracle Corp. already fulfills "at least 60 percent of the functional requirements" of such a joint system.The DSB report which was dated Aug. 31 but not released until last week was prepared at the request of Edwin Dorn undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness and Emmett Paige Jr. assistant secretary of Defense for command control communications and intelligence. The report put funding requirements of the joint DOD system at $83.6 million over the next five years however it estimated the Pentagon only had $53 million available leaving a $30.6 million shortfall.

While Congress and Livingston appeared to endorse the DSB recommendations in the report on the 1997 Defense appropriations bill industry and Pentagon sources said the bill language gives lip service to the joint system while continuing to funnel substantial funds - $57 million in fiscal 1997 - to the Navy Standard Integrated Personnel System (NSIPS) and to the establishment of a Navy-managed prototype COTS integration office.

The appropriations bill also gave what one source called "overriding" program and executive agent authority to the Naval Reserve Command headquartered in New Orleans within Livingston's district. Another source added that "not even the `real' Navy - the active-duty Navy - is happy about turning such a project over to the reserves."

Livingston's office did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Battlefield Effectiveness

The DSB report developed by a task force headed by Alan Salisbury president of Learning Tree International detailed compelling strategic and tactical reasons for a joint personnel and pay system. Simply put in an era of joint operations service-unique personnel systems hobble battlefield effectiveness.During the Persian Gulf War the multiple DOD personnel systems created a situation in which "it was difficult for commanders to get information on the capabilities and locations of military personnel essential to assessments of operational capabilities.... It was difficult to confirm even the broadest characteristics of the individuals deployed or the mobilized force [active and reserve components]."

The report added that "there is a clear adverse impact of multiple service-unique systems in the joint arena. In order to conduct operations and manage a fighting force joint commanders require information that is timely accurate and consistent across the services."

Multiple systems also lead to excessive costs the DSB report said pointing out that together the services are pursuing seven separate personnel system modernization efforts: three Army two Navy and two Air Force. But the DSB report said "the relative immaturity" of these modernization efforts presents the Pentagon with a "unique window of opportunity to aggressively move to a common system now."

Recommendations

The DSB suggested that the Army complete development of its Standard Installation Division Personnel System-3 because "it is essentially complete [and will provide]...the Army with a much-needed modernized infrastructure."

The Navy should refocus its attention away from NSIPS and toward the joint system and "current NSIPS efforts should be broadened to encompass the objective system requirements...."

The Air Force which has incorporated the Oracle Human Resources COTS system into its architecture should "not proceed with independent modernization of its field-level system but should refocus on...the objective system." Similarly the DSB said the Marines who do not have a major modernization effort under way also should focus on the joint system.

The DSB asserted that COTS systems can help DOD meet most of its objectives for a joint personnel and pay system but the report said there is a "gap" between the capabilities of COTS products and the Pentagon's requirements.

Jack Pellicci vice president of Oracle Government and a former head of the Army Personnel Command strongly pushed Oracle Human Resources as the core of the DOD joint personnel system. Pellicci told the DSB in a letter that the Air Force and the Navy have both spent "millions of dollars with Oracle...[and] as a result there is an Oracle HR knowledge base in DOD that far exceeds that of any other COTS provider."

Paul Strassmann who pushed for single joint DOD systems in all functional areas more than four years ago during his stint as director of Defense information in the Bush administration said the increasing importance of information on the battlefield should compel the Pentagon to get its system house in order.

"If the current situation continues we'll be slow and sluggish and instead of going into battle personnel will sit at railroad sidings waiting for orders " Strassmann said.

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