Pay

USDA’s payroll center moves to COOP to resume operations after tornado

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information from USDA as of 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 7.

The Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center, which provides payroll for 650,000 federal employees, has been hit by a tornado and is under its continuity of operations plan.

An email from the agency to federal employees obtained by Federal News Radio says early reports indicate significant damage to the NFC’s building in New Orleans. NFC initially suspended operations on Feb. 7, but has since resumed.

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“Operations will resume business as usual on Wednesday,” a USDA spokeswoman told Federal News Radio. “All payroll services as well as all other services NFC provides will continue without interruption and on time. The NFC staff takes its COOP planning seriously so that when disaster strikes, it can continue its work seamlessly.”

A man walks down the street past destroyed homes after a tornado tore through the  eastern part of New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.   The National Weather Service says at least three confirmed tornadoes have touched down, including one inside the New Orleans city limits. Buildings have been damaged and power lines are down. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A man walks down the street past destroyed homes after a tornado tore through the eastern part of New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. The National Weather Service says at least three confirmed tornadoes have touched down, including one inside the New Orleans city limits. Buildings have been damaged and power lines are down. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NFC provides payroll services for 170 agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice, Commerce, Labor, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development.

Jerry Lohfink, who spent seven years leading the NFC before retiring in 2010, said he would expect little interruption in payroll processing because so much of it is automated. He said he would expect some disruption with customer service in terms of being able to handle the volume and extent of the calls.

NFC also provides financial management, general ledger and human resources services as a federal shared service center.

NFC stated on its website:

“The National Finance Center (NFC) has a Disaster Recovery/Business Resumption plan that provides for the continuation of business operations in the event a disaster would render the facility inoperable. This plan is in compliance with all federal, departmental, and other guidelines and regulations regarding disaster recovery and business continuity. NFC’s mission to the department and its customers is critically dependent on providing continued service regardless of adverse conditions that may affect business processing. NFC regularly tests the recovery procedures and business resumption processes to ensure their accuracy and viability.”

NFC says during hurricane season its plan is to deploy employees to an alternative work site to assume operational responsibilities. The center says those employees will perform limited services until either full deployment to the AWS is required or reconstitution of operations back at the NFC facility is accomplished.

Lohfink, now CEO of GMRA consulting, said between 600 and 800 employees would have to move to alternative work sites.

Weather.com reported severe thunderstorms swept across the Gulf Coast region, where at least four damaging tornadoes and large hail were observed in parts of southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans.

A tornado watch remains in effect until 5 p.m. CST. More than 150,000 people are without power, according to Fox 8 television station in New Orleans.

Several other federal agencies also have offices or facilities in New Orleans, including NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, which according to Fox 8 took a direct hit.

The New Orleans Federal Executive Board is assessing the impact on federal agencies.

The NFC has faced similar natural disasters over the last decade. During Hurricane Katrina, the organization moved its staff out of New Orleans and its processing activities to its disaster recovery site in Philadelphia.

Lohfink said after Katrina, NFC moved its data center to Denver and its back up center to St. Louis, Mo.

NFC returned to New Orleans in November after spending almost three months off site.