Follow the Money

Follow the Money

OPM's financial system team members are: back row from left, Robert Loring, James Loiselle, Steve Burket, Myrtle Nsekela; center row from left, Harriet Horvitz, Kolo Babagana, Robert Clark, Dorran Thompson; and foreground, Esther Cueto.

Agencies upgrade to financial management systems for the Web

Five years after the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act, most agencies still run separate, or stovepiped, financial systems. But the General Services Administration, Office of Personnel Management and State Department are no longer among them.

State and OPM are installing the Momentum federal financial management system from American Management Systems Inc. of Fairfax, Va. GSA has finished its installation of that system.

Stovepiped systems do not meet the financial management standards set by three oversight bodies: the General Accounting Office, Office of Management and Budget, and Treasury Department.

OPM wanted to comply with all three sets of requirements, not just one or two, said Maurice Duckett, senior adviser to the chief financial officer. Duckett said he looked for an off-the-shelf product that he wouldn't have to customize.

Alan Evans, managing director of State's Bureau of Financial Management Services, had a slightly different requirement. He wanted something that could work with existing systems at U.S. embassies and agencies abroad.

Backward compatibility

'The primary focus is to replace some ancient and obsolete systems,' Evans said.

But Thomas Cowley, director for personnel systems at the General Services Administration, said too much customization can be costly and inefficient. Agencies might as well develop the software themselves if they're going to put much of their own staff time into it, he said, adding that at least some customization is essential.

'It's a balancing act,' he said. 'We have to report to OPM.' GSA just finished replacing its nearly 30-year-old legacy financial management system with Momentum. 'The idea was to have a full-fledged relational database,' Cowley said.

OPM implemented Phase 1 of its Government Financial Information System in October without customization. The agency extracted data from its Financial Accounting and Management Information System (FAMIS), developed by KPMG Consulting LLC of McLean, Va., and loaded the data into the new Momentum system for the Web.

The most difficult thing about the transfer was code conversion, Duckett said. 'We had to translate the codes that made FAMIS run into Momentum codes so we could load the data,' he said.

KPMG did not want AMS to work on its proprietary coding, so OPM managers had to do the conversion themselves.

FAMIS did not comply with the U.S. Standard General Ledger, one of Treasury's accounting standards, which was OPM's impetus for change.

FAMIS 'wasn't getting the job done,' Duckett said.

Government accounting standards are set by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, an independent body commissioned by the three oversight agencies based on the 1996 act.

Independent standards

'They use us as a vehicle to set accounting standards in a way that's independent and professional,' said Wendy Comes, executive director of the advisory board.

Besides the Standard General Ledger, federal financial systems also must comply with requirements of the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program.

Because FAMIS did not adhere to the SGL template for financial files, OPM decided last year that it needed to 'move off FAMIS to a more reliable system with a relational database,' Duckett said.

Momentum 'is not accounting, it's accountability,' said Zipora Brown, vice president of federal solutions at AMS. She said Momentum has a C++ back end and Java and HTML front ends to support Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase or Informix databases.

Users can have either Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers. Middleware comes from BA Technologies Inc. of Lincolnshire, Ill., and BEA Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

OPM's first phase brought online a general ledger and modules for accounts receivable, budget, procurement, disbursement and cost accounting.

Customer self-service

Phase 2, scheduled for completion by September, will include a storage module 'for our customers to go in and look up their data, download it and manipulate it,' Duckett said. 'It gives the OPM community better tools to do their business.'

State this fall began rolling out its new Regional Financial Management System (RFMS) at the U.S. embassy in Lima, Peru, the first of 168 sites.

State's various systems complied with the SGL and the accounting standard but not with the JFMIP standard, Evans said, and 'RFMS is the cornerstone of that compliance.'

During the first phase, RFMS will gather all financial and administrative records from U.S. civilian agencies worldwide into one system connected to State's Charleston, S.C., financial hub.

Only the embassy and agencies in Lima are now connected to Charleston. Eventually, all American embassies and agencies in South America will report directly to Charleston. State will secure the reporting via a public-key infrastructure and digital certificates issued by Entrust Inc. of Dallas.

The second phase will integrate financial data from U.S. embassies and agencies in Europe and Asia into RFMS at State's financial center in Bangkok, Thailand.

Paris to Charleston

Another hub in Paris receives financial data from nearby agencies and embassies but will send everything to Charleston during Phase 2.

Paris has for many years operated an accounting and disbursing system with IBM Corp. and Wang Global equipment. 'We won't be implementing RFMS in Paris,' Evans said. 'We will be looking to RFMS as a regional support to service countries and posts' that report to Paris.

Unlike OPM, State is customizing the Momentum software to work with existing systems at various embassies. State has a more complicated plan to consolidate and connect every embassy's financial records to the Charleston and Bangkok hubs.
Lima is using a modified version of Momentum with its proprietary system.

The goal is to replace 'the old hardware and software, but initially try to minimize impact on the post,' Evans said.
He said that constitutes business process standardization as well as systems standardization. Getting every embassy and agency reading from the same page adheres to OMB's push for systems consolidation, he said.

'When you get to elimination of systems, you start looking at savings in terms of training, and your maintenance costs go down dramatically,' Evans said.

Communications systems also must be on the same page to transmit to the Charleston and Bangkok hubs. Some embassies use configurations different from those at the two hubs.

Phase 2, with a September 2003 completion date, will create one interface that will connect directly to the financial hubs.

Cowley said GSA's integration took three years. He said financial system integration has to be carefully planned and carried out because of interfaces with other systems such as those that manage human resources.

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