Air Force awaits OK on personnel systems plan

Air Force awaits OK on personnel systems plan

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas'The Air Force Personnel Center is awaiting approval from the Defense Department to replace the service's legacy civilian and military personnel systems.

The center wants to retire the old systems by March, but the transition will be a challenge, center officials said.

The center had expected a decision on March 28 that would let it begin full-scale deployment of the joint Defense Civilian Personnel Data System (DCPDS), said Col. Thomas Starkovich, the center's director of personnel data systems.

A decision is expected any day, said Harold J. Densberger, the service's program manager for the civilian data system.

The systems replacement requires the approval of Maj. Gen. William A. 'Ken' Peck Jr., commander of the Air Force Operational Test Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. Then Arthur L. Money, assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, would need to sign off on it.

But Peck took over as commander just this month and had to review the final report.

Lockheed Martin Corp. will operate DCPDS once the center receives the green light to deploy the system, Starkovich said.

The service plans to move from character-based Cobol applications that mainly run on antiquated mainframes from Bull HN Information Systems Inc. of Billerica, Mass. DCPDS, which uses Oracle Human Resources 10.7 and an Oracle7 relational database management system, will run under HP-UX 11 on Hewlett-Packard 9000 servers.

Scratch that

The center's officials originally wanted to take its pair of Bull mainframes, which handle base-level personnel transactions, offline by Dec. 31. They now expect to postpone until March 31 the shuttering of the systems, one for 850,000 million civilian records and one for 1.7 million military records. It is complex shifting from distributed personnel systems to centralized systems, Densberger said. Under the separate Military Modernization Program, the Air Force will replace the system that handles personnel transactions for its active-duty members, National Guard, dependents, reservists and retirees. The center intends to use a comparable Oracle and HP platform for these records.

The center also will retire two Unisys Corp. Clearpath mainframes that support the processing of base-level transactions, said Lt. Col. Edward Oliver, the service's manager for the Military Modernization Program. One of the Unisys mainframes is at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas; the other is in Europe.

Besides records on the Air Force's civilian work force, DCPDS would handle personnel records for about 500,000 employees from 90 non-DOD organizations, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, General Services Administration, Office of Personnel Management, Old Soldier's Home and the White House, Densberger said.

Some of these organizations will continue using the center for personnel processing; some will not, he said.

DOD has had success with initial DCPDS deployments at Army and Navy installations, said Densberger, who began working at AFPC in 1974 and helped build the Bull civilian system. The Army and Navy deployments began in October.

The program for managing military personnel records is 'a candidate for outsourcing,' Oliver said. The center will do a business case analysis and review the costs and benefits before determining whether to perform the work in-house, he said.

The Air Force personnel systems feed data, using batch-oriented transactions and File Transfer Protocol transmissions, to the Defense Financial Accounting Service, which issues payroll payments.

'The proof of the pudding is whether the guy gets paid,' Densberger said.

In preparation for deploying the new software, the center had to retool its Cobol software shop so the programmers could work with Oracle, Densberger said. The center has 200 employees working on the civilian system modernization, an additional 200 working on the military modernization and 250 supporting the legacy mainframes, he said.

Off-the-shelf buys

For encryption, the center had the choice of four systems, Densberger said. Managers settled on the Oracle Advanced Security Option after officials from the Air Force Major Automated Information Systems Review Committee directed them to deploy encryption technology before the service mandated a particular public-key infrastructure architecture.

'We've been used to growing our own and making our own; now we're buying it off the rack,' Starkovich said. 'Compiler upgrades were pretty painful' for the Bull mainframe.

Oliver called the Bull mainframe systems the center was using a 'dead-end software environment.' And it is becoming increasing difficult to find recent college graduates who are Cobol programmers, he said.

When center officials started evaluating Oracle and other commercial products in 1994, 'no one thought it would need to be Web-enabled,' Starkovich said. 'The market has driven [Oracle] to the Web.'

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