GSA's payroll system keeps agencies in the money

GSA's payroll system keeps agencies in the money

Bill Early

25,000 workers at 35 agencies use browsers to do pay-related chores

When the Office of Personnel Management decided to scrap its 20-year-old payroll processing system last year, it considered keeping the operation in-house.

But the agency came to the conclusion that the General Services Administration's online system could do the job better and cheaper.

With nearly 4,000 employees, OPM became one of GSA's largest payroll processing customers.

There are 34 other federal offices using GSA's online payroll system, including the National Archives and Records Administration, National Credit Union Administration and Export-Import Bank of the United States.

'GSA gave pretty good customer service, and that was important to us,' said Woody Kees, a project manager for special projects in OPM's chief financial office. 'The Web technology also was a real advantage because we have so many folks in the field, and it works well with telecommuters, too.'

GSA's payroll processing system runs through an employee's Web browser. Data is stored in an Oracle8 Version 8.1.7 database that resides on an IBM RS/6000 server running AIX.

Secure access

The system lets users change W-2 form or address information, check leave statements and perform many functions that used to be done on paper.

Employees make changes by signing on to their personal pages with a secure user name and password.

GSA developed the client-server system in-house. Government employees and contract workers from Lockheed Martin Corp. maintain it.

Every two weeks, GSA processes the payroll for 25,000 to 26,000 employees, said Bill Early, GSA's chief financial officer.

'Once the agency signs up to use our system, we must interface it with their accounting system,' Early said. 'Then, every manager or time clerk can input information in real time.'

The system also communicates with each agency's human resources system, which must use Oracle Corp. software, said Mark Robinson, director of GSA's Financial Systems Division. Data is sent in table formats instead of flat files.

GSA recently incorporated a travel reimbursement module that lets employees input travel expenses onto Web forms and receive reimbursements within 24 hours.

In addition to considering its own electronic payroll system, OPM looked at other agencies' services.

GSA's system was less expensive than the National Finance Center's, run by the Agriculture Department, and the Interior Department's Federal Personnel Payroll System, and satisfied all of OPM's needs, said Maurice Duckett, senior adviser to OPM's chief financial officer.

Duckett said that after studying the feasibility of developing a new payroll system in-house, OPM concluded such a measure was not an option.

Kees said the IBM mainframe system was 'patched to the point where we couldn't patch it anymore,' and the cost of buying new hardware and software for an in-house system was too high.

Saved $400,000

By using GSA's system, Duckett said, OPM has saved close to $400,000 since October. OPM pays about $100 per employee per year for the service.

GSA also provides system training for employees. Time-keepers and managers received hands-on instruction, and other workers learned the system from Web videos or electronic manuals.

'We moved from a green-screen environment, which was not user-friendly, to one that uses Windows and the Web,' Kees said. 'The images employees input data into look like time cards and are table-driven. The system is a marked improvement.'

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