NFC director has alternate plans

As Hurricane Lili swept into the Gulf of Mexico on the heels of Hurricane Isidore, the New Orleans-based National Finance Center worked to make sure federal workers got paid this week despite the weather. And NFC director John Ortego had a surprise for his staff.

On the morning of Oct. 1, he told them he would be resigning in January after five and a half years on the job.

"I think I have effected the changes I set out to do," said Ortego, who is leaving the federal government after more than 32 years and likely will end up in the private sector.

"To retire, you have to tire, and I'm not tired yet," said Ortego, who is 55.

Ortego, a native of Louisiana, has worked on many big systems. He led a Department of Veterans Affairs modernization plan as well as the General Services Administration's systems integration and data center business.

He worked as an auditor for the General Accounting Office and advised former Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Texas) on information systems. At the NFC, he made handling the electronic payroll for 125 federal agencies seem like a breeze.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he vowed to get paychecks to 500,000 workers on time, and he did.

And this week, as Lili eyed the Gulf coast, Ortego was hard at work on a backup plan.

A deployment team of about 100 NFC employees was already ticketed and ready to go to an undisclosed recovery center out of state.

"You must deploy people to alternatives sites," he said. "You can't wait until the airport closes to decide."

Ortego was monitoring the weather to see if workers would have to be sent home because of the storm and whether the backup system would have to be activated.

Either way, he was confident that federal workers' paychecks would be electronically deposited in their accounts, like clockwork, again this week.

"We have always paid on time because we have alternate plans," he said.

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