DoD pulls plug on records system

By Tom Philpott: PNT columnist

After spending $1 billion and 12 years of effort, Defense officials have pulled the plug on a hapless plan to bring the four military branches under a single, modern payroll and personnel records system.

“This program has been a disaster,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month. He said he applauded the decision to kill what proponents said would be the largest, fully-integrated human resource system in the world.

The object of so much disaffection is the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS), known as “Dime-ers.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates clearly wasn’t a fan of the title or program, which at its peak employed 600 military, federal civilians and private contractors who tried to use off-the-shelf technology to meld up to 90 automated systems that continue to run across DoD.

Its demise leaves the Army, Navy and Air Force still reliant on archaic, problem-plagued payroll and personnel systems. It was to start in the Army in April 2006. But this and four other initial deployments dates were set and cancelled.

More than time and money had been lost, however. Military personnel, particularly Guard and Reserve members, increasingly have been frustrated by pay and personnel record errors. The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves urged two years ago that a single, integrated pay and personnel system was needed “as soon as possible” to rectify inadequacies in fragile legacy systems.

The current systems use programming language from the late-1960s that are unable to handle complex changes. When new pays are adopted, it was taking the Army on average 12 to 18 months to automate. Some pays, like medical bonuses, can’t be programmed and must be calculated manually.

DIMHRS was to relieve all of that. Members would be able to monitor a single comprehensive record on line including any health or safety incidents that would bear on future benefits.

The Marine Corps began a decade ago to move to a combined personnel and payroll system, the Marine Corps Total Force System (MCTFS). The Navy as far back as 2006 wanted to adopt MCTFS but Congress balked, with GAO noting that $668 million already had been invested in DIMHRS.

No Army, Navy or Defense official was made available to comment on plans post-DIMHRS to modernize pay and personnel systems. But Jeff Farrand, functionality manager for Air Force Personnel and Pay Integration, said his service was “moving forward” with an integrated personnel and pay system that will leverage “capabilities developed under DIMHRS.”