Pay center on alert, on time

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Working with a reduced staff, the National Finance Center intends to get paychecks for 500,000 federal workers electronically deposited on time this week.

In the minutes after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, the New Orleans operation went into its highest alert but continued operating its check-paying system.

"The checks are coming. We are actually running on or ahead of schedule," NFC director John Ortego said. The paycheck deposits are due Friday.

The facility is actually two buildings in one complex—a center run by the Agriculture Department and a second owned by NASA on a campus where the space agency builds the external tank for the space shuttle. The NASA facility was completely closed down, but the USDA center remained open under tight security.

"We went to lockdown immediately," Ortego said.

Among security precautions, the facility increased its guards, closed driveways, banned visitors and declined to accept mail.

"Everything is being transmitted to the Treasury in our normal cycle," he said. "My first concern was taking care of my people. We do believe in getting stuff out, but we do take care of our people."

NFC provides paychecks for 125 federal agencies and runs the Thrift Savings Plan for federal workers.

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