Bound for Baghdad? MOMS gets employees ready to work

'We're focusing on the most difficult and dangerous places' as additional sites for MOMS, acting CIO Jay Anania says.

Rick Steele

State pilot handles network clearance, HR processing before leaving home

As if federal employees arriving in Iraq, Afghanistan or another of the world's hot spots didn't have enough to do, they also have to negotiate an extensive'and, to the agency, expensive'red-tape process before they can get to work.

But a State Department program that takes advantage of broadband communications and a homegrown software suite aims to change that, by processing dozens of administrative tasks for thousands of overseas workers before they even leave the United States.

The program, currently in pilot stage, lets employees walk off the plane with an agency-issued identification card, an active account on an embassy's or other post's computer network, and all their human resources processing complete.

State's Model for Overseas Management Support (MOMS) task force has processed about 800 federal employees heading to Iraq through the Orientation and In-Processing Center, including professionals from the State, Agriculture, Commerce and Defense departments, and the FBI.

The OIP Center uses a system called the Post Administrative Software Suite to process HR, financial and IT administration tasks, said State acting CIO Jay Anania.

'This does represent a new management approach of rightsizing,' Anania said. 'In the past, we pushed functions out to posts. Now we are bringing functions back in to the center.'

Multitasking MOMS

Employees bound for Baghdad complete OIP processing in two half-day sessions. The pilot program has produced significant savings in travel and per diem expenses, according to the department.

The tasks include signing an employee up for an Open-Net computer account valid at the post, completing computer security awareness training, issuing an identification badge and furnishing personal information for the post's database.

The processing function also involves obtaining travel clearances and arranging military air transportation.

Most PASS applications are online, so they can be used in Washington or at posts worldwide, Anania said.

'State, typically, is the management platform for other agencies' working out of embassies overseas, Anania said during an interview in his Washington office.

In addition to allowing transferred employees to begin working immediately, rather than starting by grappling with red tape, MOMS allows State to reduce the number of IT workers assigned to a post. That's important in terms of reducing risks and costs, he said.

State officials are studying the prospect for expanding the MOMS pilot to other dangerous posts in the Middle East, Anania said.

'We're focusing on the most difficult and dangerous places' as additional sites for the MOMS project, Anania said, citing the missions in Afghanistan, Sudan and Libya. 'MOMS depends on the State Department's computer and tel- ecommunications infrastructure.'

Anania said the build-out of broadband access to posts worldwide has made the project possible.

Because of the department's broadband network, State employees can carry out some of the processing tasks from other countries. For example, a consular officer headed to Iraq from Syria could complete some necessary processing before leaving Damascus.

MOMS uses government software first developed at State's mission in Hong Kong by foreign service officer Michael Reed, who worked with Anania as a systems manager in the Chinese city.

Reed built the MOMS tools with open standards in mind, using JavaScript and other software, Anania said.

State's adoption of MOMS has occurred against the background of a looming shortage of qualified department personnel available for duty in Baghdad.

State auditors wrote in a recent memorandum that the Office of the Inspector General 'shares the widely held concern that [personnel for] future assignments to the embassy will become increasingly scarce as the talent pool of qualified and highly motivated foreign service officers shrinks with each [annual] cycle.'

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