By LtCol Jeffery Peterson
TFAS Branh Head, Manpower Plans and Policies
Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Headquarters, Marine Corps
With a sigh, PFC Morris picked up several personnel admin requests
and started heading out of the company office en route to the
battalion admin section.
"What’s all the sighing about Morris?” questioned 1stSgt
“You know 1stSgt, every week I’m walkin’ these pieces
of paper down to battalion to get things done for people.
It’s 2004--when are we going to get into the 21st century?
Why can’t I just run this stuff into the system from right here?”
grumbled Morris. “Morris, you don’t have it so bad.
Trust me, when I was a young grunt like you, we had to go to
battalion admin for everything,” countered the 1stSgt.
“Say what, 1stSgt, what do you mean by ‘everything’?”
1stSgt Ramirez chuckled, “Morris, you are really a boot.
Marines only started going on-line a couple years back to access
their information. That Marine Call Center everyone contacts
to change their trash was stood up just this past year.
All that individual training information, pro/con marks and
leave information we report here at the company … we used to
collect all that on paper and then send it to battalion to have
them put it in the system. A couple years back, platoon
commanders couldn’t just key that info into their little pocket
computers and give it to me to zap straight off to Kansas City.
We sent a lot of paper down to battalion. They had almost
20 paper pushers running around down there reporting all that
stuff into the system. Someone was always losing the info
or typing it into the system wrong. Today, we just go
to them with the more complicated stuff. They used to have a
whole platoon of Marine down there. That’s part of the
reason we’re finally getting closer to T/O on people--they’ve
turned clerks into gunfighters.”
“Things aren’t so bad Morris, every year the heavies
are letting us input more information so we don’t have to run
all over the base to get admin help. We always had to
handle the information here anyway. Now it’s easier.
We just input the stuff and are done with it and if we need
to go into the system to check on something we just do it from
right here. You youngsters are lucky, Morris. A
few years ago you’d all be standing outside CONAD waiting to
“What’s CONAD, 1stSgt?” interrupted Morris.
1stSgt Ramirez just shook his head, “ That’s enough history
for one day, Morris, you’re starting to make me feel old.
In 1997 and 1998, the general officers decided to reduce
our administrative structure of some 9,000 billets by over 1,000.
They did so in the name of automation and process reengineering
with every indication that more cuts would be made in the future.
Many Marines criticize that decision and claim that they put
the proverbial cart before the horse. “We should have
reengineered business processes and automated them before cutting
The fact is that without those cuts we would most likely
not have created the necessary sense of urgency to start moving
toward a 21st century model for pay and administrative services.
Organizational change nearly always occurs because of competitive
pressures and crises that mandate improvements in the way business
is conducted. Sometimes leaders create the crises knowing
full well that if they don’t, a mandate for change won’t occur.
The decision to cut our administrative structure provided
the sense of urgency needed to initiate the modernization of
our pay and administrative system. The initiative is called
the Total Force Administration System (TFAS) and, from an OMFTS
warfighting perspective, is aimed at reducing the administrative
footprint that has traditionally been brought to the battlefield.
A primary emphasis is on how we input and access information
from the Marine Corps Total Force System (MCTFS) (the backend
mainframe system for our pay and personnel information).
The vision for TFAS involves changes to the role of the commander,
the role of the individual Marine and small unit leaders, organizational
structure, business processes and technology. But more
fundamentally, it involves a significant change to a basic assumption
that underlies our current system--that it takes a school-trained
administrator to report all pay and administrative actions.
The end-state for TFAS changes this basic assumption and,
in fact, closely aligns our model for personnel administration
with the Marine Corps’ model for echelons of maintenance support
and other combat service support functions. Individual
Marines viewing and reporting routine pay and personnel information
represent a first echelon personnel administration capability.
Small unit leaders (non-administrators) viewing and reporting
routine pay and personnel information represent the second echelon.
The third echelon capability would be comprised of a cell of
school-trained administrators at the battalion or squadron level.
These Marines will be able to process more technical transactions
but will also have the ability to "evacuate" the more technical
or problematic transactions to a fourth echelon activity.
In our end state, personnel administration centers, which could
potentially take the form of personnel support battalions, would
provide the fourth echelon personnel administration capability.
Finally, Headquarters, Marine Corps would provide a fifth echelon
capability that would be focused toward the unique transactions
that must be run for promotions, retirement approvals, orders
generation and MOS changes, among others. The most controversial
of these echelons of personnel administration will, in all likelihood,
be the first two.
We have MOSs in the Corps because specialized skills
require unique training. Many reportable events that administrators
are currently involved in should not require special skills
– they are fundamental events that small unit leaders or individual
Marines should be able to report directly into MCTFS with simple
guidelines and the proper technology.
Everyday, small unit leaders in every MOS in the Corps collect
information and make decisions related to individual training
events, reserve drill mustering, annual leave, and pro/con marks.
They collect or generate the information only to pass it on
to an office full of Marines who retype the same information
into the unit diary system. Why? What could possibly
be wrong with the platoon sergeants or platoon commanders inputting
the data by using an “electronic clipboard” and then, if necessary,
having the 1stSgt or Company XO review and submit the entries
directly into MCTFS? What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that the basic unit diary entries discussed
above (not to mention many others that are part of the everyday
leadership responsibilities of small unit leaders) account for
nearly a third of the 17 million transactions that administrators
run in MCTFS every year. Translation -- the manpower needed
to key those entries into the system result in you getting 9
or 10 Marines in each of your rifle squads, not 10 or 11.
The 1stSgt could submit routine information directly into MCTFS
through an electronic interface that is as easy to use as an
M16 in a fraction of the time it would take him or his clerk
to take the information to the consolidated administration office.
And did the platoon sergeant or platoon commander have to do
any more work? No, they simply used a state-of-the-art
clipboard to record the information, and in so doing, avoided
one of the biggest sources of inaccuracy in our data … transcription
errors from paper to computer.
Let’s take this one step further--self-service for the individual
Marine. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service has
developed a program called Employee/Member Self Service (E/MSS).
Through a web browser or toll-free phone number with an interactive
voice response system, Marines will be able to change their
W-4 Forms, direct deposit address, home address and certain
allotments. Will there be a feedback mechanism so commanders
can stay abreast of their Marines. Absolutely!
In a follow-on phase, Marines will be able to designate
an email address to which their LES will automatically be sent
each month. This program is but a microcosm of what is
envisioned within the TFAS initiative. With a USMC self-service
call center established, Marines could easily submit their changes
via the web, interactive voice response system or by talking
with an operator and then follow up via the mail, fax or scan
with any supporting documents needed for a particular change.
What’s the result? Well, beyond the tremendous convenience
we afford our Marines, we may now be up to 11 or 12 Marines
in a rifle squad.
Changing our mindset about who can report information into
MCTFS has tremendous ramifications for the “tooth to tail” ratio.
With recent legislative changes that substantially increase
reporting requirements for deployment and personnel tempo, we
will actually have to move upwards of 500 structure spaces out
of the "tooth" and into the "tail" if we don't change our current
way of doing business. All of this is part of a larger
phenomenon involving our growing, insatiable appetite for information.
No one is predicting a decline in that appetite any time soon.
So, until we decide that the reporting of certain information
must be a fundamental responsibility of small unit leaders and
individual Marines, the efficiencies we do achieve within the
confines of our current way of doing business will likely be
offset or outpaced by the increasing demand for information.
Commanders at the battalion or squadron level will always
need some number of trained administrators who can handle more
technical processes and provide support in deployed environments
where telecommunications access for individual Marines and small
unit leaders will likely lag behind. Telecommunications
in many garrison locations, even in the near term, will be a
real challenge and require significant investment activity.
But this telecommunications issue is being worked aggressively
and, in due course, Marines at all levels will be “connected”
in some form or fashion. And with this improvement in
connectivity, our vision of fielding a new model of pay and
personnel support that involves significantly fewer administrators
can be realized.
So what about the administrators? Will structure cuts
have some impacts on retention and promotion opportunities?
Certainly they will, just as they had impacts on Marines who
worked on F-4s, A-4s and HAWK missiles. Developing and
executing the promotion, retention and lateral move plans needed
to make such transitions are always difficult. Some plans
are better than others. None are easy to develop, all
are difficult to execute. It’s never easy to explain to
Marines why promotions have slowed or why they might have to
make a lateral move. But as my staff platoon commander
told me at TBS, “if you want to be part of this gun club, you
need to be flexible.”
The TFAS initiative is important. Certainly it has
much to do with providing Marines with modern and convenient
pay and administrative services. But more fundamentally,
it is about strengthening our core competency by putting more
Marines in the pointy end of the spear. General Jones
stated that he would not ask for an end strength increase until
he was satisfied that we had looked hard internally at ways
to better use the manpower we have. We’re doing exactly
that with Marine administration. We now have a validated
deficiency in the Combat Development System, program managers
working hard at the Marine Corps Systems Command to design and
develop supporting technologies, and a dedicated group of Marines
who are working hard to change the face of Marine administration.
We’ve given back a first installment of over 1,000 administrative
structure spaces and are confident that with the right investments
we can give back upwards of another 2,000 over the Future Years
Defense Plan. That's better than three infantry battalions
worth of Marines, a huge return on some relatively minor investments
in process changes, supporting technologies and, most of all,
a simple willingness on all of our parts to move basic "care
and cleaning" responsibilities closer to individual Marines
and small unit leaders like 1stSgt Ramirez.
The Five Dimensions of TFAS
The TFAS end state focuses on five basic dimensions of our
pay and administrative system;
Role of the Commander. Battalion and squadron commanders
will continue to have the capability to provide the full range
of pay and administrative support to the individual Marine.
Decentralized reporting and accessing of information by the
individual Marines and small unit leaders will, however, change
the focus of the commander and his staff from volume transaction
reporting to situational awareness, decision-making and the
handling of the more technical pay and administrative processes.
Role of the Marine. Individual Marines will no longer
be passive bystanders who must wait on others to conduct administrative
business. Through telecommunications services, Marines
will be empowered to view information and submit transactions
that will generate necessary feedback reports to the commander.
Organization. The Marine Corps will eventually migrate
to not fewer than three personnel administration centers (PACs),
one of which will house a self-service call center. The
PACs and Call Center will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Commanders at the battalion and squadron level will retain a
small cell of Marines who can collect, perform quality control
and submit transactions to the PACs for review and certification.
Decentralized reporting by individual Marines and small unit
leaders is expected to markedly reduce the number of transactions
that must flow from the unit commander through the PACs.
Processes. Processes will be configured to give Marines
and small unit leaders maximum visibility and access to their
pay and personnel information, balanced, of course, against
the need to control fraud, waste and abuse. “Point of
action/point of reporting” and single data entry processes will
replace redundant handling and reporting of information.
The intent is to eliminate unnecessary intermediaries who do
not add value to the information being reported or accessed.
Technologies. Marines will use menu-driven, web-based
technologies along with an interactive voice response system
to input and access information. Smart Card technology
will facilitate user identification and signature requirements.
Portable electronic devices will allow for the remote capture
and reporting of information and allow for information access
in expeditionary environments. State-of-the-art security protocols
will help prevent electronic/asymmetric attacks. Plain
language text will replace computer code and technically-oriented
For more information on TFAS, see http://tripoli.manpower.usmc.mil/