Despite the fact that Audrey Davis’ resume reads like something straight out of Wired Magazine, she had hardly ever envisioned herself becoming a technical guru. And not once did she consider the possibility of being responsible for the seamless payment processes of America’s Armed Forces at Defense Finance and Accouting Service (DFAS).
She was actually supposed to be a geographer. Instead, she is now responsible for $500 million worth of IT investments every year and is the approval authority for any technology requirement worth $100,000 or more.
Davis is a graduate of Oklahoma State University where she received her bachelor of science degree in Geography. She then completed her masters in urban regional planning at the University of Oklahoma. It was at this point where her career path took a different turn. She entered the Presidential Management Intern Program, a program run by the Office of Personnel Management which brings masters-level degreed individuals into a mid-management level policy area within the federal government. Davis has since also become a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
“That was my original entry into the Federal Government,” says Davis. “It was a two-year program and I accepted that position within the Army Information Systems Engineering Command.”
It was a position that was much more technical than policy oriented.
“At the time the Army was in the middle of developing a redesigned account and dispersing application and the Lt. Colonel that offered me the job said he was looking for someone who was willing to learn about computers, technology and travel.”
Being fresh out of college, Davis thought it would it would be a great experience --something she could do for a few years, during which she could figure out what it is she really wanted to do. Her intentions were to head back to her field of study. She never made it back there.
“I got into working with computers and I learned how to program and I liked it. So at the conclusion of the two year program the Department of State was looking to fill some computer security needs and they were looking at a pool of Presidential Management Interns.”
Davis ended up getting the job and went to work for the Department of State in their Bureau of Diplomatic Security where she would do security audits of the Department of State that were used around the world at their different embassies. It required her to get various levels of security clearance and was a good learning experience in dealing with security issues for her current position.
After that position, which she did for about three years, Davis left the Federal Government and went to the private sector. She ended up getting a job at Computer Science Corporation. However, she never really left the federal segment all together.
Davis was sent to work on Army systems projects at her new job that were related to what she had done when she first joined the Federal Government. In 1992 DFAS was looking to move the program that Davis learned how to program and test on out of the DC area to Indianapolis. When she became aware of the opportunity and they became aware of her, Davis moved back into the government to lead the transition of the staff and the application from D.C. to Indianapolis. From there she has been promoted to various positions. Davis became a Manager of the Army Civilian Payroll System, after which she was promoted to the Director of IT Requirements for the Consolidated IT Support Group. She became the Deputy CIO in late 1999 and after the CIO retired, she was promoted to that position in January of 2001.
Currently Davis is responsible for 100 systems that support business processes for accounting, military, civilian and commercial pay. Although a large part of what DFAS does is providing services, not everything they do is considered an e-Government initiative.
“We have e-Government initiatives in the agency, but I wouldn’t consider every thing we do as e-gov because we have a large legacy systems base that supports our operations so a large part of what we do is keep those 20 or 30 year-old applications up and running.”
While a lot of her work is behind the scenes, allowing the business processes to continue operating, the DFAS and Davis are working on making the agency more accessible.
“DFAS is one of the four payroll providers selected for the entire Federal Government. We picked up payroll accounts for the Department of Energy, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs. Part of the e-gov initiative is getting to common solutions across the Federal Government.”
Payroll and vendor pay processes are two large projects that Davis is currently working on. On the payroll side the DFAS now has a self-service pay application that allows people employed by the Federal Government to access their accounts themselves remotely, so they don’t have to call a call center. This has also been extended to retirees who served in the military but are no longer employed by the Federal Government.
DFAS is also working hard on having a direct interface with contractors and vendors who do business with the department. Davis says they are working on giving contractors a way to submit invoices and get paid for services in a more automated fashion.
“A lot of our vendor-pay, commercial-pay processes is a very manual process. We are trying to make that more automated and we have a big initiative called e-commerce which will bring more e-commerce into the vendor-pay arena to make that easier for our vendor community.”
It’s all part of stream-lining government, something which extends to internal applications for the DFAS as well.
“One of the requirements we had this past year from the Office of Management and Budget was to produce our financial reports in 21 days instead of 45.”
Davis and the DFAS set about using their e-portal intiative to make processes more transparent. It worked. Electronic workflow increased and collaboration between employees went up.
“When everyone could see where we were and who had the handoff and who was responsible for their part of the reports, no one wanted to be the one who was holding it up. We not only produced these financial reports in 21 days, but in 17.”
It is that sort of result and team work that Davis thrives on. It’s a big role to be in charge of that much IT, especially under the e-Government initiatives set out by President Bush. But it’s a task that Davis tackles head-on willingly.
“I prefer challenging work. Work where I can apply my problem solving skills. Being a CIO for four years is a long time and one of the reasons why I have been successful is bringing people together to focus on solving a problem and coming up with some real solutions that everyone can accept.”