The Defense Department has launched a computer system that will keep pay and personnel records on more than 800,000 civilian employees worldwide -- what the Pentagon calls "the largest human resource transformation initiative in the federal government."

The Defense Civilian Personnel Data System, which began operating last month, replaces 10 systems and is intended to narrow any gaps caused by budget and staff cuts to defense personnel offices during the 1990s. Savings from the system should run to more than $200 million a year for 15 years, according to Pentagon estimates.

Charles Rogers, director of the Defense Civilian Personnel Management Service, said the new system will increase overall military readiness because it can provide quick information about the numbers and skills of civil service employees who could be called upon in a crisis.

The system can provide personnel data to first-level supervisors on Air Force bases as well as top policymakers at the Pentagon, Rogers said.

He said the system can process 1.75 million pay and benefit transactions and interacts with the department's automated payroll system. The system essentially keeps track of each civilian employee's work history, including promotions and reassignments.

Rogers said the new system should speed decisions and cut down on errors that can be made when processing changes in pay, benefits and related areas.

The system has been developed in phases since 1999, at a cost of about $196 million. It grew out of a Clinton administration effort, beginning in 1993, to streamline personnel offices in Defense and elsewhere in the government.

Guide to Personnel Law The Bush administration fears that the proposed Department of Homeland Security will not succeed unless Congress gives it the freedom to set up new personnel rules, especially for hiring, firing and rewarding employees.

The current system, which allows employees to appeal firings, demotions and other adverse actions, consumes too much time and money, Bush officials contend. Groups representing government employees counter that the appeals process protects civil service workers and military veterans from workplace abuse and thwarts politicization of the federal workforce.

There's little argument, though, that navigating federal personnel law can be tricky. To help officials and employees understand how the system works, Harold J. Ashner has written "Winning at the Merit Systems Protection Board: A Step-by-Step Handbook for Federal Agency Supervisors, Managers, Lawyers and Personnel Officials."

The merit board is the independent, quasi-judicial agency that hears and rules on most employee appeals, and a large body of case law has built up since its creation in 1978. In the book, Ashner, who once worked at the board and at the Office of Personnel Management, discusses the board's jurisdiction and what's needed to pursue a successful case against an employee.

The book, 900 pages long, expands on a 1997 version by Ashner. For details, go online to www.deweypub.com.

Retirements and Celebrations Marvin Amernick, who works in the Customs Service's Office of Regulations and Rulings, will retire tomorrow after 40 years of federal service.

Rosemarie Babel, a grants administrator at the Interior Department, will retire tomorrow after almost 35 years of federal service.

Bernie Hollander, a senior trial attorney in the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, celebrates his 53rd anniversary with the division today. He is one of the longest-serving employees in the department's history. Before joining the department, he served for three years in the Navy during World War II.

Talk Radio Abby Block, assistant director for insurance programs at the Office of Personnel Management, will discuss the upcoming federal employee health insurance open season at 11 a.m. tomorrow on "FEDtalk," federalnewsradio.com.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is barrs@washpost.com.