USDA begins rollout of HR, finance system

After months of pilot tests, the Agriculture Department is ready to roll out a nationwide system that will provide more timely and efficient human resources management services.

The USDA last week turned on the Combined Administrative Management System in Georgia, which is the first state to begin using the system without a pilot test. Last year, state offices in Florida, Arkansas, Oregon, Indiana and Pennsylvania began testing CAMS in a multistate environment.

CAMS, which will be used by the farm service agencies, will enable employees in the field to access for the first time a variety of online workflow applications, including requests for training classes.

In addition, supervisors will have a common HR system to manage employee-related inventories, such as payroll, performance management, hiring and firing, and they will have immediate access to updated data."Before CAMS, the payroll and personnel system was mainframe-based and used a reporting system [that] was cumbersome to use and not very timely," said Hans Heidenreich, CAMS project director at the USDA. "Every two to three weeks, data was updated. It wasn't at all user friendly, and we couldn't get our hands on the data as fast as we wanted." Each agency also processed its data differently.

However, CAMS will provide online, real-time access to more and better data and better reporting tools, and it will give employees access via the Internet to their personal earnings data maintained at the National Finance Center (NFC), which processes payroll for the USDA and other federal agencies.

CAMS will serve as the common HR system for the offices that will make up the new Support Services Bureau.

Currently, three separate administrative structures support the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and Rural Development mission areas.

These will be combined into one bureau by Oct. 1, giving the states authority to conduct most administrative functions. Ultimately, each state will have one administrative support unit to manage HR issues for the 36,000 farm service agency employees.

CAMS is based on a commercial off-the-shelf HR package from PeopleSoft Inc. that has been customized by Unisys Corp., the integrator on the project.

The customization mainly included writing interfaces between CAMS and NFC.

Unisys also added World Wide Web links and an audit trail capability that enables supervisors to track what training courses an employee has taken.

"Our approach is that we do not touch PeopleSoft code," said Ted Smith, CAMS project leader at Unisys. "When PeopleSoft makes adjustments to its product, we can remove what we [added]."

Other agencies using PeopleSoft have contacted Unisys for a copy of the code it used to build the payroll interface with NFC, he added.

Several federal agencies, including the departments of Energy, Labor and State, have gone live with PeopleSoft HR and financial packages within the past six months, said Jonathan Klem, vice president and general manager at PeopleSoft Federal.

In the future, the company plans to release more quickly the federal versions of its products, which now typically come out about six months after their commercial releases.

Meanwhile, the USDA is considering future plans for CAMS.

"Now CAMS supports human resources, but our vision in the future is to have an integrated system where human resources, finance and procurement all talk to each other," Heidenreich said. "We think CAMS will be an umbrella name."

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