On DoD: Army on multiyear ‘campaign’ to fix its personnel records

Three years ago, the Government Accountability Office asked the Army a seemingly straightforward question: how many soldiers received active-duty pay last year?

It took the Army three months and several tries to deliver an answer, partly because it had to make manual data calls to the active, reserve and National Guard forces from 50 states and four territories whose pay and personnel data is spread across more than 40 different IT systems.

The Army knows those ancient IT systems won’t pass muster against modern financial auditing rules and that the sometimes inaccurate data inside them keeps soldiers waiting for the pay they’re owed. Its answer to all of those problems is a program called Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army (IPPS-A), which aims to consolidate 43 systems into one cohesive whole within the next five years.

Col. Darby McNulty, the project officer for IPPS-A, said the Army still faces many of the same challenges it did three years ago, but that it’s also made major progress.

Col. James "Darby" McNulty
Col. James “Darby” McNulty

In the program’s first increment, 15 of the 43 systems were brought under the IPPS-A umbrella, and those steps have let the Army begin to address one of the key challenges in any DoD enterprise resource planning system: identifying authoritative data sources and ensuring the authoritative ones are accurate.

“We’re in the midst of a two-to-three year data correctness campaign,” McNulty said in an appearance on Federal News Radio’s On DoD. “Probably the most powerful thing we got out of increment one was a dipstick into the data we have in the Army. When we did machine-to-machine transfers from 15 databases into one under the first increment of IPPS-A, we got about 300 data elements from our soldiers and we quickly saw that in some cases we have multiple data sources for the same thing.”

Those elements, McNulty said, included a wide variety of factors including, for example, how many push-ups an individual soldier was able to perform during a given physical fitness test.

“But you can enter that data into about eight different places in the Army today, and it’s authoritative to different people for different purposes,” he said. “So we have a lot of opportunities for data fratricide, and we’re working with Human Resources Command and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to make this a mechanism to determine what our authoritative data sources are versus what’s the most convenient source for a particular purpose.”

During increment one of IPPS-A, program officials asked individual soldiers to examine the results of the data integration that had happened up until that point and assess whether their own record briefs were accurate, and the Army identified 70-80 areas in which data quality needed to be quickly improved. The Army has also drawn up a list of several thousand data elements that are still duplicated or conflicting across different systems.

“It’s enough to suck the life out of you just looking at that spreadsheet, but it’s important,” McNulty said. “So we’ve listed out all of those elements and said, ‘All right, this is going to be the authoritative source and this is going to be the owner of that data.’ It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a couple years.”

IPPS-A is now in its second increment after having received a formal go-ahead from Pentagon officials. Between now and 2020, the Army plans to deliver a final product to its HR community, based largely on Oracle’s PeopleSoft platform. By the end, it will be the largest HR enterprise resource planning system in the world.

If all goes according to plan, soldiers will automatically get a pay increase on the same day they’re promoted, something that can’t happen today because pay and personnel are treated as two separate functions.

“We have very good people doing very good work, but they’re working in very different universes and getting input from all of these disparate systems,” McNulty said. “If you look at any modern human resources system, compensation is the centerpiece.”