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CHIPS Articles: Electronic Certification System

Electronic Certification System
By Jeffrey Hayden, Nancy Sullivan and William Englehart - April-June 2001
With Electronic Certification System (ECS), invoice processing time can be reduced to just a couple of days! ECS is a web-based system that provides the capability for authorized Department of Defense (DoD) personnel to approve and certify invoices electronically for payment through the Standard Accounting and Reporting System - One Pay (STARS-OP).

On June 30, 2000 President Clinton signed the Millennium Digital Commerce Act of 2000 into law. It codifies the use of digital signatures to be legally binding.

By using electronic invoice/voucher data coupled with the application of digital signatures in the ECS approval/certification process, the payment process is streamlined. Traditional time-intensive mail/courier processing and manual handling of paper documents are eliminated. Certification using ECS becomes a "real-time event." In addition, web-based processing complies with the intentions and spirit of the DoD Paper Reduction Act. The implementation of ECS positions DFAS as a leader in e-commerce. In accordance with the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, ECS helps provide government services that work better, cost less and get results.

Public Vouchers can be submitted to ECS in two ways. First, vendors that use a Value Added Network can submit invoices directly to ECS via traditional Electronic Data Interchange formats. Second, through a partnership with the Web Invoicing System (WInS), vendors can type their invoice data directly into user-friendly invoice/voucher templates in WInS or send a batch submission to WInS via a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) transaction. WInS then forwards the invoice data to ECS for completion of the approval and/or certification process. In both instances, once certified, ECS forwards the invoice to the appropriate STARS-OP office for payment. The vendor is then paid expeditiously through Electronic Funds Transfers, staying within the guidelines of the Prompt Payment Act & pre-validation thresholds.

ECS is one of the first DoD systems to successfully deploy using the DoD Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) program service. These DoD services provide ECS users with identification certificates that allow the users to apply their PKI digital signature to approve and/or certify invoices for payment. The use of PKI technology within a system significantly enhances the integrity and security of the information/data transaction processing. System access is controlled and enforced through positive identification of users via PKI certificates and user-access-levels, identification, and passwords. All online data transactions are encrypted using HTTPS://, a protocol used to transfer data securely, for protection of users and ECS.

In support of the approval/certification processing of invoices and vouchers, ECS provides the ability to upload (via FTP), archive and retrieve any type of electronic file-based media for supporting documentation. Using FTP (typically machine-to-machine) file transactions can be sent to the ECS for incorporation into their associated invoice record where they become a permanent part of the approval/certification decision process. These files can be any desktop viewable document (e.g., with familiar file extensions such as doc, .xls, .jpg, .png, .bmp, .mpg, etc.). Additionally, files can be retrieved for reference, reviewed or downloaded to the user's desktop with a mouse click. Near future plans include providing the ability for a user to securely upload files via HTTPS:// encryption directly from the desktop into ECS.

There are many benefits of using ECS both for vendors, and for DoD entities. Vendors benefits include: electronic submission of invoices; faster payments by eliminating hardcopy mailing and manual handling of paper documents thus reducing the number of lost or misplaced documents. For DoD, benefits include: improved data accuracy; reduced need for re-keying document data; global accessibility of documents; real-time processing; secure transactions with history and audit capabilities; and reduced interest payments due to streamlined payment process.

ECS provides many additional features to enhance the flexibility of the system. One of these is the ability to process multiple vendor payments on one contract. ECS also provides notification of pending invoices to responsible parties and the ability to process invoices at accounting classification reference number (ACRN) or contract line item number (CLIN) level. Currently ECS programmers are in the process of writing the code for commercial invoices.

Vendors and DoD personnel interested in receiving a demonstration or training session or for registering with ECS can contact the DFAS Cleveland Electronic Business Office at 216-522-6089 or DSN 580-6089.

Jeffrey R. Hayden is a Financial Systems Analyst in the Electronic Business Office for the Defense Finance & Accounting Service - Cleveland Center. Nancy Sullivan is the ECS Technical Project Lead - Technology Services Organization-Cleveland Center. William Englehart is an Internet systems engineering consultant on the ECS team. He holds a Master of Science in Information Systems from the George Washington University.

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