Education models systems overhaul on IRS approach

Education models systems overhaul on IRS approach

By Christopher J. Dorobek
GCN Staff

The Education Department's Office of Student Financial Assistance is redirecting its mission around one idea: 'We help put America through school.'

This mission statement has helped Education managers reorganize the department and set a systems architecture, department officials said.

'The Office of Student Financial Assistance's current operations are hampered by out-of-date technology and processes that waste time and money,' according to the OSFA's new modernization blueprint.

'As the federal student aid delivery system evolved, our systems were continually changed and/or built to deal with an increasingly complex maze of programs, transactions, participants and controls that were believed necessary,' the blueprint said. The department's staff has kept pace with the changes, but OSFA's systems have not, the blueprint concluded.

To solve the problem, OSFA will use middleware to create links quickly between stovepipe systems, maximize legacy applications and provide users with online access to information.

In many ways, the office is using the IRS' reform effort as a model for its reorganization, said Jerry Russomano, director of program system services in Education's Office of Postsecondary Education.

With a process that is similar to the one the IRS used, OSFA developed a modernization blueprint to guide its organizational and technical overhaul. It has published the most recent version of the document on the Web at easi.ed.gov.

Education, also like the IRS, is restructuring its organization around the primary groups to which it provides services: students, schools and financial institutions.

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The blueprint outlines projects the department will undertake from October 2000 through the following September.

They include tailoring a Web page for academic and financial institutions, creating a single accounting system, simplifying the department's aid origination and disbursement system, creating an electronic billing and payment application, permitting the use of electronic signatures, assembling a portfolio of risk management tools, further consolidating data, creating an employee performance evaluation system and rebuilding many of the department's business applications.

During the coming year, the department will set the stage to begin work on those
projects.

The first 18 months of the modernization effort will focus on core systems work such as upgrading and consolidating existing financial systems, creating OSFA and data center intranets, integrating existing payment systems, providing interactive Web services for updating financial aid information, using digital certificates to identify customers with whom the department communicates online, and establishing the foundation for electronic billing.

To get the project rolling, OSFA by Aug. 16 will select a contractor to help implement the reforms, said Candace Hardesty, special procurement adviser to Greg Woods, chief operating officer for student financial assistance programs.

Later in the year, Education will hire an independent verification and validation contractor to monitor the modernization and ensure that the department keeps on schedule. The department also will hire a contractor this year to help it improve financial management.

For its systems architecture, OSFA will move to a three-tiered environment.

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