Army tool gives OPM work force facts

Norm Enger says OPM aims to store personnel data online, not on paper.

Susan Whitney

As the government's work force edges closer to retirement, the Office of Personnel Management is working on a system that will give agencies a more accurate look at several characteristics of their personnel.

Through the Enterprise Human Resources Integration project, OPM is integrating and modifying an Army data analysis tool to help departments forecast work force needs down to skill level, said Sandra Gibbs, OPM's director of the project.

The work force analysis is one of three objectives of the initiative, said Norm Enger, OPM's e-government project director.

Enger said the other goals of the project, one of five Quicksilver e-government initiatives OPM is directing, are to store personnel data electronically rather than on paper and to feed the information digitally into the federal retirement system, which OPM also is modernizing under a separate project.

OPM hopes the project will provide agencies with easy access to personnel data to make better informed decisions, decrease the cost of storing data and make the exchange of files easier and quicker, Gibbs said. She emphasized that OPM is not creating a governmentwide human resource system to replace agencies' individual arrangements.

OPM is moving quickly with the adaptation of the Army's tools: the Workforce Analysis Support System and Civilian Forecasting System. Gibbs said the project team is putting a new graphical user interface on the system. GRC International Inc. of Vienna, Va., built the tools using a database engine from SAS Institute Inc. of Cary, N.C.

'Forecasting is really the gem of the Army tool,' Gibbs said. 'It is a powerful tool that looks at historical data and makes predictions not just about retirement, but if you will need a certain skill in four or five years. It really helps us better manage our human capital.'

The Army, according to its Workforce Analysis Support System Web site, uses the tools to analyze civilian work force data for the past 28 years. The analysis includes personnel counts and averages, and trends. The system also looks at tendencies over long periods of time to see how they vary.

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The Web site said the Civilian Forecasting System predicts strengths and losses by type, such as retirement. It also lets users project vacancies from occupations and grade at an installation level or Army-wide.

Gibbs said the Defense and State departments are implementing the tool, and 18 other agencies signed on to eventually use the tool, which OPM expects to be ready next year.

Even though agencies already do some human resources forecasting, Gibbs said, agencies use a hodgepodge of data elements, which hampers the accuracy of the results and the ability to provide a governmentwide view.

Gibbs said the project team is combing the data elements each agency collects to determine a standard set of data that each agency uses when transferring employee records. The team has reduced the number of data elements to about 500 from 1,100, Gibbs said.

'We are describing the relationships of the data elements to figure out what is needed to move employees through the federal system,' she said. 'We are fairly close to being finished after nearly two years of work.'

Gibbs said one of the first goals of the project will be to build and deploy the initial human resources data repository next year. The data will include 80 standard elements such as name, address, Social Security number and birthday, and basic security clearance information for more than 2 million executive branch civilian employees.

Gibbs said OPM will extract most of the data from agencies' current HR reporting systems, most of which use software from Oracle Corp., PeopleSoft Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif. or SAP America Inc. of Newtown Square, Pa.

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