USDA keeps paychecks coming, despite Katrina

Of all the worries federal employees have about Hurricane Katrina’s impact, getting their paychecks shouldn't be one of them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture completed the payroll for nearly 500,000 federal workers at its National Finance Center (NFC) in New Orleans before the Category 4 storm savaged the city Aug. 29, USDA officials said today.

More than 1,500 NFC employees worked through the weekend to process paychecks for the current pay period, said USDA spokesman Ed Loyd. The agency then evacuated the site and flew some NFC personnel to a temporary location in Philadelphia to resume operations for the upcoming pay period, he said.

The NFC can perform all its necessary functions out of the Philadelphia location, Loyd said. “They’re going to be on schedule” for the next payroll cycle, he said.

Federal employees shouldn’t notice any interruption in their paychecks or problems with direct deposit, Loyd said. The only glitch so far appears to be that the NFC’s Web site, www.nfc.usda.gov, remained down as of Sept. 1.

The emergency transition went smoothly according to a disaster preparedness plan already in place, Loyd said.

NFC employees saved all of the center’s data before the hurricane hit. “All the information is secure and we haven’t lost anything,” he said.

The NFC will operate out of Philadelphia until it can return to New Orleans, Loyd said. USDA will run recovery operations from a site it has near Dallas.

USDA has little information about the status of the NFC facility, other than it is now standing in five feet of water, Loyd said.

Earlier this year, USDA announced plans to move some of the NFC’s IT operations to the agency’s National IT Center in Kansas City, Mo., Loyd said. The move would greatly improve the operability of NFC systems and allow them to be accessed anywhere, he said.

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