DOD creates HR e-files

For some Defense Department employees, waiting for paper-based personnel records to arrive in the mail could have serious consequences, such as delaying loan applications to buy a new car or home.

A system pioneered by the Defense Logistics Agency may eliminate such holdups by giving potentially more than 600,000 civilian employees immediate access to their files via the Web.

"Some people had no idea we even had these documents, and it could take a long time for us to distribute them when employees did ask for their files," said Jim Storms, chief of information systems for DLA's Customer Support Office-Columbus in Ohio.

To expedite employee access and improve internal business processes, the customer support office awarded a contract two years ago worth about $1.8 million to Integic Corp., which has helped develop DLA's integrated personnel records management system.

The system, which covers 36,000 employees, was recently tapped by DOD's Civilian Personnel Management Service as a model for the department's planned system, a huge undertaking that will reach all of DOD's civilian personnel.

At the heart of the DLA system is Integic's electronic Official Personnel Folder (eOPF) product, which was designed to mirror paper-based resources used by federal human resources officers to track personnel actions.

Like all federal agencies, DLA maintains a paper folder for each employee that contains all printed personnel data associated with a person's government career.

On one side, the folders have all of the employee documents that are still in progress, such as a manager's move to increase pay or an employee's motion to amend insurance coverage. On the other side of the folder are completed documents.

Integic's eOPF — which is a government off-the-shelf product developed through the company's work with DLA, the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration and others — electronically mimics the two-sided folder.

The product is intended to help agencies move away from their reliance on paper forms. "The goal is to create a virtually paper-free environment," said Bill Weiland, Integic's program manager. "By 'virtually,' I mean that agencies won't be entirely free of paper, since litigable forms by law still require paper documents."

Moving paper forms to electronic format can free up massive amounts of space in agency personnel offices. "Before, we had a giant file room here in Columbus that had huge carousels full of official personnel files," said John Martin, lead information technology specialist at the Customer Support Office-Columbus.

Five years ago, the office developed a system called DoveTrack to begin using the Internet to disseminate personnel files on request. But the system had substantial limitations. "Human resource officials would log on to the Internet and request a file, which would then have to be mailed to their location," Martin said. "Actually, we would FedEx the file for tracking purposes. But that cost us quite a bit of money. Plus, we have employees across the world who really didn't have access to their own files."

To expand personnel records management capabilities, the customer support office in 2001 began a $1.8 million initiative that would use eOPF to connect existing systems that feed personnel files.

For instance, eOPF had to incorporate data generated by the Defense Civilian Personnel Data System, an Oracle Corp.-based application that houses all of DOD's payroll information. Integic also had to find a way to help DLA include data from the government's massive Thrift Savings Plan.

Information from TSP's interactive voice response system, which employees use to change their retirement packages during open seasons, also needed to be included. The agency and Integic were able to map eOPF to the myriad databases, Martin said.

Because of the government's various data sources and ways of processing employee information, even the more robust enterprise resource planning systems from market leaders such as PeopleSoft Inc. or SAP AG do not provide federal personnel offices with the comprehensive functionality they need, sources say.

"EOPF marries nicely with these client/server systems and is not duplicative of them," said Mary Lou Lindholm, president of Lindholm and Associates, an human resources consulting firm.

Lindholm, formerly associate director for employment service at the Office of Personnel Management, headed a taskforce at OPM to seek ways to move agencies toward common HR systems. She pointed to future uses of eOPF capabilities. For example, the tool could play a huge role in vital workforce statistics exercises and even help detect skills gaps in an agency's worker base.

Jones is a freelance writer based in Vienna, Va.


Electronic paper trail

At the heart of the Defense Logistics Agency's personnel system is Integic Corp.'s eOPF (electronic Official Personnel File) application. Hot on DLA's heels, the Defense Civilian Personnel Management Service is preparing to roll out eOPF to as many as 850,000 users to manage civilian personnel records. eOPF features include:

* Browser-based access to employee files and e-mail notification of file changes.

* Security measures to allow different levels of access for managers and employees.

* Side-by-side comparisons of personnel forms in progress to detect inconsistencies.

* Workflow features to shuffle forms between federal managers.


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