Here's how two agencies are making EC work

In its first year of service, the Veterans Affairs Department's Credit Card System has
earned $5.8 million in rebates for the department's IMPAC cardholders.


Run by the VA Financial Services Center in Austin, Texas, the electronic payment system
processed $800 million in payments during the last year.


CCS' one-day turnaround earned the center's VA customers the rebates, center director
Harlan Hively said.


An IMPAC user earns $6.60 in rebates for every $1,000 spent. Hively said the center
returns the full rebate to its VA customers.


Although CCS opened for business last spring, the system hit its peak last month,
processing 154,000 transactions.


"This is the next phase in our more-electronic, less-paperwork type of
environment," Hively said.


All of the system's users are VA agencies. Hively said he would like to offer the CCS
services on a fee basis to all federal agencies.


"What bothers me as a federal manager is that some of the other federal agencies
have not been very quick to adopt some of the electronic commerce techniques," Hively
said. One of the roadblocks seems to be breaking the habit of getting a bill each month
and then holding it for another month before paying it, he said.


But, he said, the advantages of the system outweigh the burdens of the old processes.


"Speaking for the finance center," Hively said, "had we not gone to this
with the pressures to downsize in the federal government, we certainly would not be
getting our payments made on time and would have a lot of irate vendors."


VA runs CCS on a Compaq ProLiant 5000 server under Unix. To store details about each
buy, the system uses an Oracle7 Release 7.3 database that the center customized.


Each day at 6 a.m., the system dials into a database maintained by the U.S. Bank of
Minneapolis, which provides the IMPAC cards, and downloads the previous day's transactions
for the center's VA users. The information includes the prices for all items bought and
data about the cardholders, their agencies and their account numbers.


Within a few hours, the system sends to the Treasury Department a request for payment
from the VA's account. Treasury makes the payment through electronic funds transfer, and
the bank remits the rebates to the VA Treasury account.


CCS then prints up statements, which record the transactions and the rebate credits,
and the center mails them to the appropriate VA agencies overnight.


The system has helped pay for improvements at the Financial Services Center, too,
Hively said.


"We were able to eliminate 30 to 35 positions that used to process the [paper]
forms," he said. "We have eliminated positions at field offices, too, although I
think those people probably were reassigned to positions where they could better help our
veterans."


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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