OMB says share HR systems

The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management planned to ask top federal managers last week to renew their efforts to develop common personnel and payroll information systems for agencies.

The proposal which was to be issued July 2 at a meeting of the President's Management Council (PMC) is prompted by concern among agency financial managers and the General Accounting Office that agencies are investing in new computer systems without first considering if other agencies have found suitable applications that can be tapped. Interest in this issue has been fueled by agencies' plans to make their systems Year 2000-compliant and budget cuts that are forcing agencies to spend less on administrative tasks.

"We've had people working for quite a while to get standards for core financial systems " said Jim Brown director of financial systems with the Labor Department and manager of a project on payroll systems for the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Council. "An agency going in to purchase new software doesn't need to reinvent the wheel."

For years OMB and OPM have urged agencies to reduce the number of payroll and personnel applications they use but progress toward that goal has been spotty federal managers said. For example according to a letter sent to OMB by GAO in April agencies have been unable to agree on a set of requirements for new personnel systems although OPM set this as a goal five years ago.

Brown said that cross-servicing agreements and system consolidation projects have cut back the number of payroll systems agencies operate to "15 or 20" during the last decade. Nevertheless the CFO Council decided in February to study whether further efficiencies are possible as agencies consider trashing or upgrading mainframe applications that are not Year 2000-compliant.

GAO said in its letter that if agencies are going to change their payroll systems they should take into account changes to other human resources management systems because the data from personnel applications feed the systems that generate workers' paychecks. In a recent survey GAO found that "the potential exists for great variation in system design " and with the cost of each new system estimated from $60 million to more than $200 million developing common information requirements "warrants further attention."

OPM has sponsored one common system called Employee Express which it rolled out in three phases during the past two years. An OPM spokeswoman said 31 agencies now participate in the system which allows agency employees to update information about themselves such as changes in their names or addresses by telephone.

Agencies also are trying to upgrade numerous other internal systems to track employee performance assignments position descriptions training and benefits.

John Koskinen OMB's deputy director for management told the Chief Information Officers Council recently that he wants agencies to find ways to share applications without requiring everyone to use the same system. A common approach "might create a much more effective database for federal employees " Koskinen said in an interview last week. "Increasingly people understand what we need is an infrastructure."

Koskinen said the PMC whose members include the deputy secretaries of each Cabinet department will have to decide how best to pursue the issue. OPM currently sponsors a Personnel Automation Committee to address common agency systems needs. Koskinen said he would propose expanding the group to include CIOs and CFOs then ask it to "come back with what the potential and possibilities are."

Anne Thomson Reed CIO of the Agriculture Department said the CIO Council generally wants to look at common systems requirements for administrative systems in general. "The [human resources management] effort is an important one and one that agencies are interested in " she said. "That is likely to be one of the first ones out of the box."

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