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'Point-Click' Civilian Personnel Data System Nears Reality

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2000 – Sometime next year Defense Department civilian personnel specialists and managers will be able to perform employee actions, gather information and assemble reports with the click of a mouse.

The mouse will access the new Defense Civilian Personnel Data System, "the largest human resource data system in the world," according to Diane M. Disney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. DCPDS, she said, is the result of five years of collaboration by DoD, the components and civilian contractors.

"It will be the first fully integrated data system that works in 'real time,'" she said. "In other words, you could find out 'right-this-minute' anything you want to know about your personnel record or about the records of the people you're managing.

DoD's old civilian personnel data "system" consisted of 10 separate systems that couldn't talk to each other, Disney said. Over the past few years, the old 10 were integrated into one database she called the "legacy system," "because that is our inheritance from the past." She said that information is being used to create the DCPDS, which should be implemented within a year.

"From a departmental perspective, we will be able to tell exactly where we are in terms of all kinds of personnel variables, today, with total accuracy. The improvement is extraordinary," she said.

Managers, too, will benefit from DCPDS, Disney said. The vast DoD-wide database is designed to support more than 800,000 employee records and is capable of processing 1.75 million different pay and benefit combinations for each employee.

"Managers and supervisors will be able to create reports -- the range of awards they've given, for example -- and almost any other factor they want to look at that they were unable to get in the past," she said.

DCPDS test sites have been operating since October 1999 at Fort Richardson, Alaska; Naval Submarine Base Bangor, Wash.; and San Antonio. Disney said she is impressed by what she has seen during visits.

"It is a 'point-and-click' environment. It is so user-friendly," she said. "People who knew nothing about the system have become proficient in a week. It is incredibly fast to learn."

Disney said DCPDS will "move things swiftly along" in the personnel realm, saving time and reducing errors, redundancy and lost actions. Through an "auto-populate forms" feature, the system will automatically enter standard information such as names, addresses and other data onto electronic forms on the computer screen.

"Personnel offices won't have to key in data all over every time a new action occurs. That reduces the likelihood of errors," she said. "If it reduces errors on the personnel side, it does the same thing with the payroll side."

Most DCPDS transactions will be electronic, Disney said, and the system features a tracking device that should prevent lost paperwork.

"There is always a tracking device within the system," she said. "That will eliminate a lot of anxiety on the part of the employees and personnel managers. We should be able to keep processes moving in a way we've never been able to do in the past."

To safeguard personal information, Disney said, authorized users access the system with special passwords.

The harnessing of DCPDS technology and consolidation of the services' 10 separate data systems is half of ongoing modernization, she said. The other half is the regionalization of the services' various personnel offices -- at the end, about 300 customer support units stateside and overseas will support 22 regional personnel support centers, she added.

"The combination of activities should result in substantial savings," Disney said. "We estimate DoD will save $223 million a year. It is an enormous efficiency."

DCPDS was created by massive collaboration, Disney said.

"We've had private sector, off-the-shelf computer products, data coders from the Air Force and my staff, and contractors -- a mixed workforce," she said. "We've had all the service and agency components involved at every step of the way in terms of helping to design it and test it.

"In fact, for the past five years we've been training people to operate the new system and its components. Our personnel offices now have computer-literate workforces, and we didn't really have them when we started out five years ago."

Word of DCPDS has spread, Disney said, and human resource managers around the globe want to see what it is all about.

"We've had people from about a dozen different countries come in and take a look at what we're doing," she said. "We've had people from federal and state agencies looking at this."

Disney said DCPDS will evolve as newer technology becomes available. "There will never be a time when we'll say 'the system is perfect and done,' because there is always another idea, another option," she said.

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