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The Changing Face of Marine Corps Administration

 

 
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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 Ramirez.

“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’?” replied Morris.

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 get helped.”

“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 structure.”

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.”
 

Conclusion

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 help screens.

For more information on TFAS, see http://tripoli.manpower.usmc.mil/ WEB/Manpower/ MANPOWER.nsf/mp/mphome.


Email -- jdgrose115@polyglut.net
Web -- http://members.tripod.com/~jdgrose115/

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