The Planning and Finance Division has been hard at work assisting department employees as needs arise during these challenging times. Although the vast majority of our staff are still working remotely, everyone is determined to continue providing the best support we can in the areas of accounting, budget, facilities management, grants, purchasing, and technology. With the help of staggered in-person visits to HQ, leveraging the options of electronic signatures and submissions, and taking full advantage of other virtual technologies such as Google Meet and Drive, Microsoft Teams, and Webex, I am extremely proud at how successful the Planning and Finance Division continues to be in our support of the overall department. In efforts to celebrate their continued hard work and determination, here’s just a sample of what they’ve been working on over the last couple of months:
The Planning and Finance Division welcomes another new employee since the last installment of this newsletter, with Justin Turpin joining DWR earlier this month as the most recent addition to our Procurement Team. Justin comes to us with over fourteen years of experience working in various Procurement Officer roles for the Commonwealth and in the private sector. Look for more information about Justin in the coming days, but we are extremely excited to welcome Justin to DWR.
I also want to extend our appreciation to everyone for their patience and support for our purchasing efforts over the past few months. You may have noticed some policy and procedural changes and possibly even experienced slight delays. Some of this was the result of reassigning or standardizing responsibilities within our Procurement Team; whereas other changes were based on the Administration’s initiatives, new Federal agency requirements, new system requirements, and past audit recommendations. In August, we emailed out an update highlighting some of these changes, along with a few other reminders. We also held two trainings in September and have more planned in the future. We’re also working to finalize an updated workflow chart to better explain steps for contracts and other purchasing methods. All this said, please rest assured that these changes are not being made simply for the sake of change, and we will continue to look for ways to make purchasing efficient while also making sure it complies with specific requirements.
Agency Name Change
I wanted to take this time to thank all those who assisted in supporting our agency name change. Just within the Planning and Finance Division, this effort called on expertise and long hours from employees in IMS and IT Operations, Accounting and Purchasing, and Facilities. Employees from these sections were front and center in leading the infrastructure, organizational, and digital transition from one agency name to the other, or from four initials to three in some cases…… Kidding aside, these employees also worked closely with staff from the other divisions and more than twenty other technical experts from VITA and VITA partners to plan, prepare for, and eventually affect this change on July 1.
I wanted to also share that new signs for our Headquarters, Regional, and District offices have all been installed or ordered. New decals for our more than 400 vehicles are also expected to be received and delivered to regional offices for installation by the end of this calendar year. We are working toward updating the signage at WMAs and Hatcheries in the coming weeks as well.
Budget and Accounting
As many of you may be aware, the Special Session for the General Assembly recently concluded, and despite other agencies having to endure reductions, DWR was able to maintain our original budget appropriation, and more importantly, our original levels of HB38 and Watercraft Sales and Use funds to be transferred. The results from the Special Session definitely provide some breathing room for DWR and our current budget; however, we continue to be conservative when approving certain spending and positions because of the unknown and unbudgeted expenses and revenue impacts relating to COVID-19 between now and next June.
Our Budget office, in working with many of you, just finished our annual assessment of DWR’s “internal control system” in accordance with the Agency Risk Management and Internal Control Standards (ARMICS). To comply with ARMICS, each agency must take systematic and proactive measures to maintain internal control to ensure accurate recording and reporting of financial transactions, compliance with laws and regulations, and stewardship over the Commonwealth’s assets. For the recently completed Fiscal Year 2020, staff completed an Agency-Level Assessment and Transaction-Level Assessment of DWR’s internal controls and found no significant weaknesses. That said, there were certain areas of improvement noted by these Assessments, such as communication, more inclusive decision making, and staffing, and Planning and Finance will be working with the Director’s office and other divisions in the near future to address these opportunities.
Although we’re not yet to the half-way point of our FY21 budget, we have now started planning for FY22. As part of this effort, we have already re-instituted a more representative Budget Team and more transparent budgeting process that will assist the Director’s Office and Director’s Working Group in ultimately finalizing a budget for Board approval next May.
Despite our department still mostly operating under a ban on discretionary/non-operational travel, there are now updated lodging and meals & incidental (M&IE) rates for the Commonwealth that took effect last month. Therefore, if approved for travel, employees are asked to make sure to use these two links for the updated rates. http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/104877 and https://www.gsa.gov/travel/plan-book/per-diem-rates/per-diem-rates-lookup. Also, make sure to refer to the department’s updated Travel Policy/Procedures and TAR/TERV forms (eff. January 15, 2020) with any other questions by accessing AIMS.
Finally, we have just begun a Federal audit of our Wildlife Restoration and Sport Fish Restoration programs and funding. Our entrance conference was held on November 10th. Focus on this audit will be on activities during State Fiscal Year 2019 and 2020.
Our IT Development and GIS section has been extremely busy on several projects over the past few months. This includes the Law Enforcement Collection App (LECA), which will enhance access to data layers like parcels and agency infrastructure in the field; a limited user release will take place this fall. GIS staff have been working on a data sharing portal, which is where all DWR GIS data is being consolidated and managed from one location; our staff intend to work with data owners on how it is presented to the public consumers next. IMS/GIS staff have also enhanced VAFWIS and CWSS applications as well as the Nuisance Wildlife Trapper List (NWTL), which is getting an overhaul and is nearly complete with a new search tool coming soon. It’s also worth noting that our GIS Servers are changing providers in the November/December timeframe and although outages should be minimal, please let our GIS team know if there are any access issues. Finally, thanks to a coordinated effort between our Facilities section and IMS/GIS section, the Plotter Room has been relocated to what was formerly the Turtle Room at Headquarters, making room for a new Special Operations/Central Evidence Room for the Law Enforcement Division and its accreditation process.
As most of you know, our IT Operations and Telecomm staff have worked hard to provide support to employees now working in a more remote environment. Since March 17th, this group has ordered and/or deployed close to 50 new laptops, more than 150 RSA Soft tokens and VPN connections, and several hundred other IT devices to ensure staff have remained capable of performing mission-critical responsibilities. Just as they rose to this challenge in the beginning, each of them are continuing to look for ways to provide support in this new virtual world. These continuing efforts will include upgrading our meeting rooms with more video conferencing options, bulk ordering computer cameras for assignment to each division, ordering or refreshing laptops that include a camera as a standard feature, and testing new software and solutions. Based on Verizon Wireless converting its 3G tower sites to 4G/LTE and 5G, they have also been busy reaching out to staff with devices that are affected by this transition, and ordering/replacing these devices with newer 4G-compatible equipment.
In the coming months, our phone system at Headquarters will be transitioning from UCaaS to what’s known as Virtual Communications Express (VCE), which has the potential to cut costs by at least 20% each year. Although less expensive, the new VCE system is expected to include standard features like voicemail-to-email and caller ID, as well as additional customization and greater interaction with mobile phones and desktop client software. Look for more information about this new initiative soon.
Finally, thanks to our Go Outdoors Virginia solution, along with licensing, permitting, and registration options, the Planning and Finance Division was uniquely positioned to support the agency, and our hunting, fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing customer, in each these functions like never before this summer. For one, almost all of the agency transactions are available online. That said, thanks to our Central Receiving/Mailroom team, over 113,000 pieces of mail were opened, scanned and images uploaded to Go Outdoors during the summer months. This supported not only teleworking efforts of the Customer Service/Boat Registration & Titling section in the Outreach Division but also the Wildlife Permits section in the Director’s office. To this end, it has also been exciting to see many staff in multiple divisions work together with the Go Outdoors solution to support a revamped Angler Recognition Program where anglers can submit their catch for fish certifications online, a new Guest Checkout to allow for more general sales items and donations, a new E-Commerce module for all merchandise sales and the Wildlife Grant Program, as well as registration and report functionality for recent R3 initiatives including Refer a Friend, Restore the Wild, Run for the Wild, Trout Slam, Grand Slam, and new hunter/angler onboarding communications.