Checks and balances

'TCIS is easier to use and provides better service to us, and we can provide better customer service.'

'Joan Pesata, tCIS project manager

Laurie DeWitt

Treasury's new system to help bring financial management under control

As the government's money manager, the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service must reconcile its checkbook, like most households. But since it handles a quarter-billion checks each year, the agency needs more than the calculator that most folks rely on for balancing their books.

FMS is about to replace its 20-year-old Check Payment and Reconciliation System with the Web-based Treasury Check Information System.

The new system, set for rollout in December, will give FMS an electronic environment for reconciling the more than 250 million checks and processing the 1.5 million claims for lost or stolen checks that come in annually.

'TCIS is easier to use and provides better service to us, and we can provide better customer service,' said Joan Pesata, TCIS project manager. 'It will give customer agencies one source for the information related to any checks they've authorized and any claims, rather than having staff go to multiple sources for the information.'

Currently, claims and payment information are processed under two separate systems.
The system will provide electronic case management, including digital imaging of documents FMS receives, and workflow management so that certain actions automatically trigger other functions. It also allows many users to look at the same case simultaneously.

FMS will transmit check data electronically instead of via tape, and check images will be stored digitally rather than on microfilm, said Dawn Young Johns, program manager of the financial processing division and FMS' business unit owner of the new system.

Faster responses

New systems such as TCIS are part of the agency's Governmentwide Accounting and Reporting Modernization Project for processes associated with budget, accountability, and cash and asset management.

Since it uses the Web, TCIS will be easier to update than the legacy system, speeding response to changes in legislation and court cases, Johns said.

Some of the look and feel of the old system will remain. 'There will be no changes to the interface file so as not to upset agency users,' she said. There are several thousand users of the older system.

Agencies will perform all their check inquiries on the new system and search by check symbol and serial number or by recipient. The system also will be able to list all outstanding checks by agency.

Agency users will also be notified by e-mail on the status and history of files they have submitted. 'They'll know in a matter of hours of the submission that we received them and that we are ready to process them,' Pesata said. Under the old system, notification took days and was carried out by paper.

TCIS will use check data from agencies that issue their payments through FMS and also check payments issued by the Defense Department, federal courts and the Marshals Service, as well as payments such as Social Security and veterans' benefits.

The dial-in Check Payment and Reconciliation System has become costly to maintain, and the nightly batch processes are inefficient. Plus, the Federal Reserve uses digital check images instead of microfilm. Treasury also is updating other processing systems that interact with FMS systems, including the Treasury Receivable Accounting and Collection System and Check Forgery Insurance Fund.

FMS officials anticipate that the new check and claims processing system will automatically incorporate some data from the Automated Clearing House system, the primary electronic funds transfer system used by agencies to make payments, and the Payments Accounting Claims Enhancements Reconciliation, which gives agencies online access to payment status.

TCIS, which the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank developed around electronic financial services software from CheckFree Corp. of Atlanta, will initially provide agencies with the same functionality as the current system and eventually offer more integration with other services.

To use TCIS, agencies need only be able to access the Internet via Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. TCIS will operate on the Treasury Web Application Infastructure platform at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and run on Microsoft Windows NT servers. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank has been conducting developers' and quality assurance testing. The system is expected to move to Dallas at the end of this month for user acceptance testing and to test user security IDs.

'The biggest challenge technically is getting all the components to work together seamlessly,' Pesata said. Also, FMS has interfaces with a number of other systems. It has been another challenge to ensure that those interfaces continue to work well.

FMS will provide agencies with training. 'It's not a very complicated system, and it's very intuitive,' Pesata said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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