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Total Force Administration System (TFAS)
Bringing The Marine Corps Administration System “On-Line” with Today and Tomorrow





Gerald H. Gaskins, Lieutenant Colonel, USMC

“We need to look at those functions that Marines perform in the supporting establishment and ask ourselves how many of those functions can be out-sourced.  My goal is to return as many of our Marines as possible to the operating forces.”
                              James L. Jones
                              Commandant of the Marine Corps

Personnel administration processes in the Marine Corps changed very little since I came on active duty in 1981.  There are some changes; direct deposit, email, but overall the actual mechanics to affect my personal record is pretty much the same; paper intensive; manual processing; multiple layers of management oversight; and slow reaction time from start through execution and feedback.  This is under normal conditions by being physically co-located with an operational unit with a personnel administration department.  However, on several occasions, my career assignments were remote from my parent unit and I had to conduct my personnel administration business by driving miles for even the most routine administrative tasks.  This is done at the expense of my duty time and inconvenience. This situation is not uncommon when you consider the multitude of assignments for individuals in our recruiting commands; Military Officer and Enlisted Instructors at the universities; embassy and deployed Marines.  In most cases, Marines will forego maintenance of their record in a timely manner in favor of accumulating transactions for input at a later date when it is more convenient.

The condition I just described adversely affects the state of readiness in the Marine Corps.  Some would say, that this is an exaggeration, however, if you think about it, the role of personnel administration is significant in the state of morale and welfare of the individual Marine.  If a Marine is not totally centered on his duties due to failures or frustrations in the personnel administration processing then his mind is not on his primary duties.

Few of us have ever gone through our careers without experiencing some form of pay or personnel problems in their record.  Whether it is the improper handling of a travel claim through misinterpretation of handwriting or oversight. This is not to imply that our personnel administration is incompetent, however, it does question whether we are providing our administrators and commanders the ‘best’ tools they need to support the Marine.  I’m convinced we have not.  This is what the Total Force Administration System is all about.  Getting the best resources to the service provider to provide the best service possible.

At first, the civilian corporate environment improved personnel administration services to influence the company’s bottom line ‘profit’.  The fewer people it takes to provide administrative service support meant that those resources could be diverted to producing a better core product.  But then as the corporation got leaner through personnel cuts, Human Resource Managers examined the direct effect of attitudes on productivity.  The obvious conclusion is that good personnel administration contributes to making the employee feel more attached and committed to his/her organization. Though not necessarily concerned about profitability, Marines are concerned about efficiency, productivity, retention, and motivation and the heart of all of these issues is personnel administration.

TFAS seeks to bring the Marine Corps personnel administration to a “world class” level by integrating the newest available information technology to our existing systems.  But the final solution is not in just technical improvements, it also improving the organizational structure through a comprehensive Business Process Reengineering (BPR) review.  This parallel process (Technical development & BPR) is what ‘sets up’ TFAS as a textbook “How to” Information Technology (IT) program in the development of an Automated Information System.  The Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 (ITMRA) is explicit to Federal Agencies preceding the decision to invest in information technology.  The IT solution must support the work processes that have been “simplified or otherwise redesigned to reduce costs, improve effectiveness, and make maximum use of commercial off-the-shelf technology.”  The ITRMA encourages that management should reengineer business processes first, then search for acquisition alternatives.

Currently, most Marine Corps personnel administration processes are manually inputted into a unique closed system by a designated Marine or civilian (Unit Diary Clerk, Administrator, Mail Clerk, Disbursing etc…).  Personnel data transactions are processed through the Marine Corps Total Force System (MCTFS) via the On-Line Diary System (OLDS) and the Unit Diary/Marine Integrated Personnel System (UD/MIPS).  This system currently handles over 15 million transactions per year.  Although, these systems are dated, they are well maintained, upgraded regularly and reliable, however, the system experiences high vulnerability in data quality because of the middle-man (administrator) interface (erroneous entry) and low visibility to the data by the affected individual.  Again, the service we provide our Marines is good, however, it is not the best we can do under the current IT alternatives offering improved capability and available in the commercial market.

TFAS began with a comprehensive review of the business processes by expert Marines and civilian administrators.  This team is called the Quality Leadership Board and sponsored by the Deputy Commandant, Manpower & Reserve Affairs.  For the past year, their mission was to define and examine all of the Marine Corps personnel administrative processes and objectively analyze where and how improvements can be made to the system.  These administrators were motivated by the fact that their community was subjected to an immediate reduction of over 1000 Marine administrators to the overall structure and the impending challenge to reduce even further in the near future.  The main emphasis being to not reduce the Marine Corps end strength but to comply with the Commandant’s objective to “…return as many of our Marines as possible to the operating forces.”  The BPR began by identifying:

a. existing processes
b. existing organizational structure
c. personnel administration best practices
d. cost/benefit analysis
e. technological alternatives

The results confirmed that the Marine Corps personnel processes are too labor intensive best evident by the Marine personnel administrator ratio of 22:1 verses the civilian industry average of 100:1; and the lack of readily accessible information to the individual Marine interference with overall system quality.  The hallmark of the TFAS system is to improve the existing system quality by (1) reducing the personnel administrator interface; (2) increasing the individual accessibility to data; (3) and promote self-service.  The technological solution will, therefore, support this effort to incorporate these recommendations into viable alternatives maximizing the use of commercially available technology.  TFAS is not a replacement for MCTFS, OLDS and UD/MIPS, it is an enhancement by developing and integrating a new IT capability within the Marine Corps system.  Technology such as web based applications; Graphical User Interfaces (GUI); Computer Telephony (CT); Interactive Voice Response (IVR); Smart Card; Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and other commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) systems make TFAS a plausible ‘today’ reality rather than a ‘towards the future’ initiative.  These technologies are relatively new but proven and are incorporated in the most sophisticated Human Resource Management departments in the largest corporate offices in the nation.  These systems combined will provide the typical Marine the capability to access their personal records (Payroll, Record Book, Performance Evaluations; Assignments, etc…) via telephone and internet connection and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Here is a brief overview of the self-service technologies currently under consideration for TFAS:

Interactive Voice Response (IVR): The best description for this technology is a “voice computer.”  The IVR is activated via telephone and uses prerecorded voice commands stored on a hard drive with synthesized voice responses for feedback to the caller.  The synthesized voice actually reads digitized text in the main computer and converts that information to speech.  The reading capability of the voice synthesizer is virtually unlimited.  However, the system is limited in the caller’s ability to remember the voice commands necessary to access the information.  This means that voice commands must be configured in a manner that uses as few execution terms as possible to access the most commonly preferred information.

Computer Telephony (CT): CT is similar to IVR from the perspective that activation is via the telephone.  CT is much more sophisticated but not necessarily a substitute for IVR.  The purpose of the CT is to manage and integrate telephone calls into/out a computer system.  CT is particularly important to increase the productivity of personnel using the computer system in environments such as a call center where a caller needs more specific information unobtainable via an IVR or other systems.  Without going into very much detail, this technology adds “intelligence” to any system by not only identifying the caller to the service provider but also assisting in search for the specific information even before a connection is made between the two people (caller & Service representative) and the start of their conversation.  CT capability today indicates that it has almost unlimited potential in the interaction of telephone to computer transaction processing.

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI): This is a system that contains secure signatures or certificates formatted in an algorithm.  The more common association is the magnetic strip along the back of your credit or ATM cards.  The strip maintains the signature and confirms that authenticity of the user for gaining access to the system.  The two main limitations of PKI are that it is only capable of handling a low volume of information and the durability.

Smart Card: Often people confuse Smart Card and Public Key Infrastructure cards.  A Smart card is a credit card sized device that contains a microprocessor, memory and a battery.  It is essentially a small database and personalized into any configuration to handle private and other sensitive information.  Smart Cards can even contain commands to activate other systems.  The best feature of the Smart card is that its individualized processor is almost tamper resistant.  The potential application to TFAS is that as Smart Card technology proliferates throughout the IT environment in other personal applications such as personal banking operations, this technology will be instantly applicable to other systems within TFAS such as CT.

The Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM), via the Program Manager, Information Systems, recently assumed responsibility for the technical Program Management of TFAS.   The technologies described are just some of the systems that will be examined for consideration in the ultimate final solution.  During this initial phase extensive research will be conducted into the availability and feasibility of all potential applications in the development of legitimate alternatives.  No one application provides the ultimate solution as a stand-alone system.  Each has their advantages and limitations.  SYSCOM’s goal is to analyze the integration of these technologies and determine the best combination for implementation that is affordable, maintainable, reliable and meets the needs of the individual Marine. But one factor is certain to remain constant in any solution and that is securing the system the most it can possibly be in the Internet environment.

With the development of electronic banking applications over the World Wide Web the market is proliferating with Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) protocols and encryption standards.  Although, each of the technologies described provide their own inherent level of security, the final solution has to guarantee an additional level of security to our Marines that their transactions or personal data is not vulnerable to manipulation by unauthorized sources.  Common sense leads you to the conclusion of how our personalized information can be manipulated to our detriment and the types of legitimate and illegitimate agencies willing to exploit this information.  Currently, each of us conducts transactions via the Internet without much regard to the level of security of the vendor.  Just recently an Internet company’s seemingly secure customer credit card file was hacked, downloaded and held for ransom.  The Internet company refused to pay and the extorter released the information to the general public.

The Marine can be assured that TFAS will be secured with as much redundancy as reasonable.  This is why we are not going to move too hastily to implement a commercial solution based on one’s opinion that there are institutions already operating the type system we need.  Our system, whatever it may be, is going be developed under a higher standard especially in terms of the level of protection committed to the privacy of our Marine.

General Jones’ guidance, is the impetus behind the Marine Corps concept for TFAS.  Even without this explicit guidance, advances in information technology alone makes the move in this direction inevitable.  It is necessary that we take the time and resources and efficiently distribute them where they provide the best level of productivity.  TFAS will: (1) reduce the number of Marines necessary for assignment to the administrator military occupational specialty; (2) increase the accessibility of the Marines personal record via multiple IT sources; (3) provide a secure means of conduct for personal administrative services; (4) provide commanders in garrison and in the field a better capability to monitor and assist Marines; (5) allow the individual Marine more responsibility through self-service tools for the quality maintenance of his/her personal record; (6) will improve the speed and quality of personal administration transactions.

About the author: Lieutenant Colonel Gaskins is the Project Officer for TFAS and assigned to the Marine Corps Systems Command, within the Program Manager, Information Systems, Business Information Systems Division at Quantico, Virginia.

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