EPA makes invoice payments EASY

Federal agencies each year take a financial beating from private companies imposing steep interest charges on late invoice payments. Although the Environmental Protection Agency boasts an on-time invoice payment rate of better than 99 percent officials there now are installing an electronic invoice-approval system dubbed EASY to further ensure prompt payments.

The EPA's Financial Services Division is deploying the Electronic Approval System an in-house system that combines e-mail notification and desktop access to mainframe data into an application aimed at the least computer-literate of project officers. EASY will replace an EPA mainstay called "the bright pink envelope " which is stuffed into employee mailboxes to remind authorizing officers who must first approve invoices before payment can be made to send in the paperwork. The officers are then prompted by e-mails.

EPA officials predict EASY will shave several days off the approval process and the time saved can be used to lengthen deadlines for project officers.

The EPA is installing EASY despite having a 99.5 percent on-time payment rate. "For several years there has been a desire to have an electronic system but the technology was not good enough to beat the paper system " said Mitch Gray chief of the operations systems staff of the EPA's Financial Services Division which is part of the chief financial officers' comptroller office. "Some of the project officers are pretty wedded to those pink envelopes. [But] the envelopes take a couple of days to funnel around and then they may land on someone's desk and that person's alternates will not know it is there."

Because it is heavily reliant on e-mail EASY will alert any official authorized to make payment of a pending invoice. Here is how it works: A vendor submits either an electronic or paper invoice that is pre-validated by the central payment office which then generates an e-mail notice. The project officer then can click on an icon representing the EASY application and access extracted data identical to that traditionally presented on paper.

EASY represents the EPA's second stab at an electronic approval system which was attempted in the late 1980s but was abandoned because of security concerns. It was also unpopular because many project officers were not computer-savvy and had trouble accessing data from a mainframe. EASY uses security features inherent in the agency's local-area network operations and will require an additional password before an invoice approval can be finalized.

EASY was created in-house using Microsoft Corp.'s Visual Basic application development software.

-- Jones is a contributing writer based in Falls Church Va.

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