Letters to the Editor

Defending EFT

After reading the editorial "Little angst over missed deadline" [FCW, Jan. 11], I felt compelled to respond to some of its assertions.

The editorial states that there has been a "casual attitude" about the electronic funds transfer initiative. From Day One of our efforts to implement EFT as required by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, our attitude at the Financial Management Service has been anything but casual. FMS, a bureau of the Treasury Department, has worked diligently to increase the number of people signing up to receive payments electronically.

Working with other program agencies, FMS has been very successful in increasing electronic payments. This is reflected by the fact that the number of people receiving their payments electronically has risen from 50 percent in 1996 to 72 percent by the end of December 1998. FMS is issuing 100 million fewer check payments today than it did three years ago.

Notwithstanding our success, we realized that there were many difficult considerations to address prior to full implementation of the EFT provision. We received and responded to more than 200 letters during the comment period to the final EFT rule. The letters underscored the fact that there are some people for whom EFT may pose a hardship, such as those recipients with mental and physical disabilities or who have geographic or language barriers. Treasury addressed these concerns by announcing the availability of self-certifying waivers for any individual who believed receiving direct deposit would create a hardship.

Additionally, millions of recipients do not have bank accounts because of financial hardship or other reasons. To address this concern, Treasury worked with a coalition of more than 1,000 community and consumer groups and the banking community to develop an electronic transfer account to be offered to any person receiving federal benefits payments. These accounts, which will be available through federally insured financial institutions, will offer a low-cost option to recipients who previously did not have banking relationships. We have received nearly 200 comment letters in responses to a notice setting out the attributes for the ETAs.

Regarding our marketing efforts, FMS and Treasury have made an extensive public education effort to raise awareness of the benefits of EFT and to educate recipients about their choices for receiving payments.

Another concern, as mentioned in the editorial, has been providing remittance data to federal vendors. FMS addressed this by developing the Payment Advice Internet Delivery System, which offers remittance data to vendors via the Internet. FMS also worked with the National Automated Clearing House Association to require banks to pass on remittance data upon request from vendors. At the end of November 1998, vendor participation in EFT had grown to 50 percent from

10 percent when we began this initiative in 1996.

While we at FMS believe that EFT is the most convenient and secure way of receiving payments, we realize some individuals need other options. We have aggressively marketed EFT while recognizing and addressing the concerns of individuals with special considerations. We believe our efforts to accommodate people with special needs deserve credit, not criticism.

Richard L. Gregg

Commissioner

Financial Management Service

***

Training first thing to go

The article "Tight budgets pinch training, CIOs report" [FCW, Jan. 25] is not surprising given that the vast majority of internal processes in the federal information technology community itself have never been baselined, modeled or even considered. As a result, chief information officers have little choice but to go to their IT staff and ask them what they feel they need.

Were the internal processes re-engineered and/or redesigned as the Clinger-Cohen Act intended, CIOs would not have to ask these questions. They would know the skill sets, costs and time required to assure meeting Clinger-Cohen Act requirements. Importantly, they could then schedule required training knowing that they are getting what they need.

Unfortunately, without knowing the skills sets and the training already accomplished by employees readily at hand, the budget, no matter how small, will be too little for training needs.

Before I get in too much trouble for criticizing the CIOs, I will say that they are doing a yeoman's job in an unwinnable situation. Something has to give, and "soft" items such as training are usually the first to go. That is unfortunate, but not reversible when the facts on needs are not readily available.

John V. TiesoVice president

D. Appleton Co.

***

Posting objections

In "Improper completion of forms squanders benefits" [FCW, Jan. 11], Bureaucratus mentions that the Postal Service deducted from Ruth Mae Grooms' paychecks the higher, optional life-insurance premiums. When Grooms died, were her beneficiaries able to recover...the approximately two years of higher premiums for the coverage USPS deducted because Grooms did not receive the higher payout? Did any USPS pay stubs or similar paperwork document her change from the higher-cost optional to the lower-cost basic coverage?

Usually, the change in any code will be flagged and defined somewhere on the pay stub. If no changes or corrections were documented for almost two years, and the optional coverage premiums continued to be deducted, then I believe that some type of fraud has taken place.

Also, if the pay stubs or similar paperwork were mailed to Grooms, her beneficiaries or caregivers, then fraudulent information—charging for coverage or services not provided—has been sent through the postal system.

I hope that Grooms' beneficiaries pursue their case through other legal channels, especially if mail fraud is evident.

Name withheld by request

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