All Army civilian employees will be able to look up their personnel records online by October 2013, an official said Wednesday at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting in Washington. (AFP via Getty Images)
All Army civilian employees will be able to look up their personnel records online by October 2013, an official said Wednesday at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting in Washington.
Barbara Panther, director of the Army’s Civilian Human Resources Agency, said that Army civilians in Europe and Asia can already access their records online, and the rest will gain access to their electronic Official Personnel Folder — or eOPF — records this year.
Moving personnel records and other HR functions online is a logical step, Panther said, since people are already used to shopping, banking and booking travel reservations over the Internet.
“Employees want to be able to take care of their own civilian HR functions in the virtual workplace — anyplace, anywhere, anytime,” Panther said.
Digitizing personnel records will also make it less likely they will get destroyed or lost, Panther said. She said she once panicked when a fire broke out in a European office and she feared tens of thousands of employees’ personnel records might be lost.
“That was my greatest nightmare, to have any of these destroyed,” Panther said. “I didn’t know how we would reconstruct some 30,000 to 40,000 personnel folders. That’s a career occupation, to get those done.”
The Army had 300,000 personnel folders on paper in September, she said. The Defense Department is one of the last federal agencies to move to electronic personnel records, she said.
With electronic records, if an Army employee gets a job in another agency, the Army will be able to digitally transmit his personnel records to the new agency.
“Electronically, it’s not going to get lost in the mail, and those kinds of catastrophes could be avoided,” Panther said.
The Office of Personnel Management in recent years has been pushing agencies to digitize and automate their personnel records. OPM hopes that digitized records will allow it to calculate new retirees’ pensions more quickly and accurately.
Panther said the Army also has created online tools that alert a manager when one of his employees is about two months away from a career ladder promotion. If the employee is doing well enough to earn it, the manager can click a button to approve his promotion and move it through the system automatically, she said.
She also said the digitization and automation of personnel records will make it easier for managers to conduct employee appraisals and approve performance awards.
Reforming and speeding up the Army’s hiring process is crucial, Panther said, and she urged managers to do more strategic workforce planning. Roughly every spring, managers should review their staffs and try to predict who might leave over the next year — perhaps by retiring, or because of the transfer of the employee’s military spouse — and come up with a plan to replace those employees in advance.
Many offices today start going through the necessary steps in the hiring process — such as reviewing the position description, conducting a job analysis to identify the necessary competencies, and writing the vacancy announcement — only after an employee leaves Panther said.
“Today, in most places, hiring is reactive,” she said. “Sue leaves, and I, the supervisor, go, ‘Oh my God, the sky is falling, I better get an RPA [Request for Personnel Action] together.’ By the time Sue’s been gone for a month, we’re just getting to the point where we can post a job announcement.”