IRS, Customs look for common HR system

The Internal Revenue Service and the Customs Service are exploring whether they can integrate their multiple human resources systems into one platform using commercial off-the-shelf technology.

The agencies are looking for a more efficient way to manage the personnel records of more than 100 000 employees who make up the majority of the Treasury Department work force. If the IRS and Customs field a common system other Treasury bureaus possibly may adopt it.

"It's not our objective to come out with a lot of common systems but where it makes sense to look at department-wide systems to save money or achieve departmentwide gains we have to be conscious of it right now " said Jane Sullivan information resources management director for Treasury. "Budgets are certainly going to be limited in the future."

James O'Malley director of the IRS Personnel Division said the agency has counted 14 separate information systems up to a decade old that it uses for human resources applications. After a recent study he said the IRS "concluded this wasn't a way to run a business." The agency received $1.5 million from Treasury to test alternatives.

The IRS which has been criticized in the past for relying too much on its own programmers to build and maintain computer applications wants to deploy a commercial system that does not require custom tailoring. "Everything we customize we have to revisit with every upgrade so there is a permanent cost" to agency-unique requirements said program manager Ted Ballard.

Officials from Customs could not be reached for comment. Ballard said however that Customs had been pursuing similar goals and the two agencies had decided they could get more for their money by joining forces.

A study earlier this year by Ogden Government Services concluded that the IRS alone would save $7 for every dollar it invests in an integrated personnel system. The project is one of 15 business process re-engineering projects that the IRS has undertaken recently to improve how it provides support services.

Working with Andersen Consulting which holds one of a dozen Treasury Information Processing Support Services contracts the agencies are testing software provided by PeopleSoft Federal to develop a "proof of concept" for the system. According to an internal IRS newsletter officials will not decide whether to pursue the project until June.

Among the agencies' goals are to key in employee information only once and run multiple applications with one relational database. Ballard said the IRS also wants to make it easier for employees to handle certain personnel functions by themselves such as signing up for health benefits.

Another feature the agencies are exploring is linking their systems directly to the payroll applications at the National Finance Center which processes Treasury employees' paychecks. The IRS also wants to use the system to track security clearances for its employees so workers' access codes can be updated more quickly if they change jobs within the agency.

Other agencies are working on similar projects said Jeff Carr vice president with PeopleSoft Federal. The company has contracts to modernize human resources systems at the departments of Justice Energy and Veterans Affairs.

"We've gone in and tried to build a solution that off the shelf should meet 85 percent of any federal department's requirements " Carr said.

Updating the IRS and Customs' systems is "a big change " Carr said. "They will have to migrate and convert data from legacy and mainframe systems...but even when that's done they'll still have to bridge data or pass data back and forth to and from those legacy systems."

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