skip navigation
Vol. LVII, No. 15
July 29, 2005
cover

next story
Personnel Goes Paperless
NIH Among First to Use New Electronic Folder System

On the front page...

It won't affect your pay, leave or benefits. In fact, you may not even notice when it happens. Nevertheless, the folks in human resources are working hard to prepare you for receiving less — less paper, that is. Beginning in early August, all official personnel folders for HHS employees will be converted to electronic web-based files called eOPFs, electronic official personnel folders.

Continued...

 
This screen will welcome NIH’ers to the new web-based electronic official personnel folder system.  
Say goodbye to the hard copies of such standard forms as the SF-50 Notification of Personnel Action. Instead, you will receive an email alerting you that a document has been added to your eOPF. You can then log into your eOPF account and view what has happened since your last visit. Similar to online timekeeping (ITAS) and Internet-based payroll (DFAS), the eOPF system gives workers more immediate access to their employment information.

In a few weeks, each NIH'er will receive a letter from the HHS Program Support Center. It will provide your eOPF user identification and other specific information for using the system. The PSC will also be sending out emails titled "eOPF password request" containing your initial password. At first, you will be able to use eOPF only at computers on the HHS network. Eventually access will expand to wherever the Internet is available.

In addition to round-the-clock, instant access to your federal employment history, eOPF offers several other benefits:

  • Better security. Only authorized people may view your files. Since there is no hard copy, there is no paper to be mishandled, misfiled or transported through the mail. "This will cut down on the number of hands that touch your personnel documents," noted Robert Spector, an HHS information technology specialist who worked on the eOPF conversion team and presented an introduction to the system for NIH'ers on June 8. "There will be fewer opportunities for errors."

  • More convenient searching. If you have been in federal service for a while, you know how much paperwork you can collect over the course of a career. Looking through your personnel folder for documents from just a few years ago often meant rummaging through dozens of pages of material. When eOPF goes live, you'll be able to type in a search term, hit "enter" and let the computer do the looking.

  • Easy backup and recovery. Paper folders are more likely to be lost, stolen or destroyed in a fire or flood. Electronic files are safer and will be backed up every day.

  • Economical storage. According to estimates, active HHS personnel folder documents accounted for more than 10 million pages, or about 190 trees. eOPF significantly reduces the costs of document storage, maintenance and retrieval.

"Nothing like this has been undertaken by the federal government before now," Spector said, noting that although HHS will be among the first to convert to digital files, all federal agencies will make the switch to eOPF by September 2008.

Before logging onto eOPF, employees must first read and accept conditions on the user agreement page. At logon, users will be asked for their eOPF ID and password.

However, not all documents are eligible for electronic conversion. Paper copies are still required for so-called "wet ink signature" documents that include, for example, forms dealing with your health and life insurance. HHS will continue to maintain and store these files, as required by law.

What’s In Your OPF, and What’s Not

If you’ve never had an occasion to check out your official personnel folder, electronic OPF may offer just the opportunity. What should you expect to see? The paper OPF is divided into two sections: left side and right side — left for temporary documents; right for long-term documents that are kept for the life of the folder, usually 115 years from the employee’s date of birth.

All documents are filed by date, with the most recent on top. Your eOPF will be similarly organized, so you can expect to see the resume or SF-171 that was used to hire you in your first federal job, health benefits registration forms as well as any documents signaling a change in coverage, life insurance forms, retirement coverage documents for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) election forms and updates, and military service records.

Do not look for such documents as occupational medical records, training forms or award justifications. Over time, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management reevaluates and revises regulations about what records should and should not be kept regarding your federal employment.

Remember too, all OPFs — paper and electronic — are the property of OPM. The records are maintained to protect the rights of employees as well as Uncle Sam.

The eOPF system was tested in a pilot last March. One thousand HHS employees were chosen at random to participate. Those workers have had access to their official personnel folders ever since.

"It's been a couple of months since I used the eOPF system, but I recall it being very user friendly," said pilot user Paula Cohen of the NIH Visitor Information Center. "During the 15 years that I have been an NIH employee, I have misplaced numerous paper copies of important personnel documents, so I found it very helpful and comforting to have all of my personnel documents online, organized and easily accessible. The only negative — yet another password to memorize."

Cohen's experience is probably fairly typical for viewing official personnel folders: Unless there's a need to get access to it — to calculate retirement benefits, for a move to a job in another agency or to track a promotion, for example — most employees don't go looking for their folder and may not even realize what documents it contains. That could change when the information is available at your fingertips.

"Right now some employees keep all their forms, some don't keep any," said Darla Allen, human resource information specialist and project lead of the eOPF conversion team at NIH. "Some documents can take a while to reach employees, because sending out SF-50s cannot always be the highest priority for some administrative officers and human resource specialists working on more critical issues. eOPF is going to allow employees immediate access, and it's also going to allow HR staff to do more strategic planning."

As for the password issue, apparently it's a common user complaint agency wide, not only for eOPF but also for other IT applications. Spector explained that employees will be prompted every 90 days to set a new password, whether or not they log into eOPF. "You might find it's a cumbersome process to login, but we are not compromising on security," he concluded. The 90-day requirement to change passwords is part of an HHS policy.

More opportunities for employees to get familiar with eOPF are scheduled for Aug. 3 at NIEHS facilities in North Carolina, Aug. 16 on Executive Blvd. and Aug. 23 on the main campus. Watch your email for specific times and places. To get a head start before eOPF goes live, visit the web page at http://hr.od.nih.gov/eOPF/default.htm.

back to top of page