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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
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.
|This screen will welcome NIH’ers to
the new web-based electronic official personnel folder system.
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.
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.
|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.
"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
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.
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