Treasury readies e-pay program

The check is no longer in the mail. In fact, there is no check. The Treasury Department is expected to launch a program this summer to make it easier for businesses and citizens to pay certain taxes, loans, fees and other funds to the government completely online—a program expected to handle $125 billion a year.

The service, free to the public, is called Pay.gov and expands a pilot program.

"Pay.gov is a general-purpose system that will be used governmentwide," said Gary Grippo, the chief architect of electronic commerce at Treasury's Financial Management Services.

Pay.gov was designed by Treasury officials to cut the time needed to process checks from the public, as well as the cost of processing paper. The system uses four commercial banks, electronic forms and a portal. Similar to a central bank, it gives every federal agency the tools needed to be paid electronically through a Web-based central system.

Like other portals, the Treasury Web site is a window into a system that will allow customers to pay certain kinds of bills online. And once fully operational in the next two years, it could handle 80 million transactions a year.

"It will save government money," Grippo said. "It will save us the cost of processing paper by hand, physically depositing checks and waiting for the cash."

Under the pilot program that began in October, the portal has been handling payments electronically from two agencies: tobacco excise taxes for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and loan payments for the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than $800 million has been collected for government coffers. And by the end of this year, 12 more federal agencies will be online.

"We are the integrators," Grippo said. "We have a team of people at Treasury who have designed the system customizing the software and hardware."

Among Pay.gov's features:

* Customers can view agency bills and submit agency forms.

* Payments and collections can be authorized.

* Access will be provided to information that requires authentication.

"It is a perfect example of true cross-agency benefits and an example of what e-government should be," said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., which advises the federal government on best practices and acquisitions.

Pay.gov is the latest e-government idea from Treasury. Other programs already available include the Cashlink system, an electronic service that manages the collection of funds within government and reports the balances to federal agencies.

Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service launched the electronic federal tax-payment system, which enables businesses to avoid using paper coupons to pay taxes.

Those moves to pay electronically are only the beginning, Grippo said. In the near future, a radio station could pay a sign fee to the Federal Communications Commission, a small firm could repay its Small Business Administration loan and a seafood company could pay for a Commerce Department inspection — all online.

"There are hundreds of different ways to use it," Grippo said. "Now, these programs are primarily processed by check."

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