EPA's CFO ties her success to reliable systems
EPA's CFO ties her success to reliable systems
The finance staff seeks
By Shruti Dat'
At the Environmental Protection Agency, the chief financial officer says she has learned to lean heavily on computers to make the Financial Management Office run smoothly.
CFO Sallyanne Harper has been championing financial management and administrative reform at EPA for 12 years. In June, her successful track record earned her the Frank L. Greathouse Award from the Association of Government Accountants.
The 350 members of the financial management staff at EPA's headquarters and 10 regional offices 'stay abreast of new technology to find ways we can do things faster than we are currently doing,' Harper said. 'Also, we are willing to experiment.'
A study by the Hackett Group Inc. of Hudson, Ohio, illustrates how information technology has helped EPA keep control of its finances. The group's Finance Benchmark U.S. Government study evaluated the use of available fiscal 1998 resources in 11 federal agencies and 100 companies.
The study, released this spring, found that EPA's finance staff devoted 60 percent of its time to routine transactions. The average for federal agencies was 79 percent.
'One of the primary goals of the Hackett Group benchmark is to determine how effectively an organization utilizes its resources,' said Martin Poch, chief of EPA's Financial Systems Branch. EPA's use of systems has boosted productivity and efficiency, he said.Tracking funds
EPA officials give partial credit to employee access to financial information.
The agency uses Teloquent Version 4.0, a standalone automated call distribution system from Teloquent Communications Corp. of Billerica, Mass., that runs under Unix.
EPA hosts Teloquent on a Hewlett-Packard NetServer 60. The communications link for the program is an Integrated Services Digital Network line.
Employees can tap into the program using a telephone via the X.25 D channel of the ISDN line, said Deana Crowder, deputy program manager for Dyncorp of Reston, Va., which did the integration work for EPA.
The system reduces EPA's workload by responding to many service inquiries with prerecorded information, and it produces detailed reports on inquiries.
The interactive voice response system has an interface to the agency's accounting and payroll systems, and it handles a large volume of travel and payroll inquiries from EPA workers.
Employees can change information about their addresses, federal tax withholding status, direct-deposit requirements, thrift savings plan deposits, health plan selections and savings bond purchases. To handle the transactions, EPA uses the Octel 350 messaging server and Transact 2.1 IVR software from Lucent Technologies of Murray Hill, N.J.
Employees can access the system via telephone using a personal identification number authorized by EPA, said Sheila Manuel-Bullock, an EPA accountant.
Systems such as IVR have improved her office's services, Harper said, but EPA's financial management success hinges on its aggressive approach to strategic planning. EPA links its annual budget and goal planning to long-term environmental results, she said.
To help with the planning and performance measurement process, the agency uses the Budget Automation System, developed for EPA by ISSI Consulting Group. of Silver Spring, Md.
BAS lets EPA weigh resource requirements against annual performance goals and agencywide strategic objectives.
Users access BAS from their networked PCs, which run Microsoft Windows NT. The budget system stows EPA financial data in an Oracle7 Release 7.3 database on a Compaq ProLiant 6000 server with dual 200-MHz Pentium processors and 1G of RAM, said Jeff Johnston, ISSI's system development project manager.
'For all 10 regional offices and in-town offices that are not on the backbone LAN system, the EPA loads front-end files on local LANs and provides access via a TCP/IP connection,' he said.
The ISSI application has online error-checking, supports interactive updates and does ad hoc reporting. EPA relies on it to develop its annual budget proposals for the Office of Management and Budget, Poch said.
Since 1989, EPA has also used Federal Financial System software from American Management Systems Inc. of Fairfax, Va. The software, currently Version 5.1, runs on an IBM Parallel Sysplex mainframe under OS/390. The AMS program supports core financial functions'everything from accounts payable to travel document processing, said George LaForest, EPA operations manager for the Enterprise Technology Services Division.
The budget and financial applications can swap data, letting EPA track operating costs and control funds management, Poch said.
Bill Boone, EPA supervisory computer specialist in the Annual Planning and Budget Division, said, 'We have an interface between the two applications; we move the appropriate information from BAS to the Federal Financial System.'
EPA developed the interface for the information integrated from BAS into the Federal Financial System. For the reverse process, AMS built the interface, Boone said.