Customer service at its finest was the role for lead Customer Service Representative Annette L. Epperson, who retired from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers workforce Oct. 3 completing more than 37 years of dedicated federal service.
A headquarters asset, working for the Finance Center at Millington, Tenn., but located at the Omaha District, Epperson served as Payroll Program Manager for all of USACE, every district, every division, each and every person. “She is very meticulous, hard-working, and thorough when it comes to helping employees with their pay issues,” said Margaret Cassel, Omaha District Accounting Officer. “Annette is very knowledgeable on Corps and Defense Finance and Accounting Service regulations pertaining to pay and leave entitlements. Her retirement leaves a tremendous void in the Corps.”
Epperson, a native of Council Bluffs, Iowa began her federal career in 1977, just two months after graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School. Her first job was as Clerk Steno in the Public Affairs Office for the Missouri River Division. She then worked in the USACE centralized payroll office, followed by military accounting. In 1992 she began working as the USACE Payroll Program Manager at the former Missouri River Division, now known as Northwestern Division. In 2010 the position was assigned to the Finance Center.
“I get to resolve anything that can’t be resolved locally,” said Epperson who worked with pay problems, programming, accounting, and checks that weren’t received. During the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Epperson became the “go to” battle buddy for pay issues facing civilian employees. “When we first went to Iraq, the quantity of pay problems was huge,” remembered Epperson. “DFAS didn’t understand all the pay laws, we didn’t understand them, and it took quite a few meetings and quite a bit of research to figure it out. Then it all had to be programmed.”
Epperson experienced many changes in the payroll system during her career. In 1996, as a staff accountant, she was in charge of the conversion from the Corps payroll office to DFAS. She recalled that things ran very smooth when the Corps had their own payroll office. “There was no gap. If we identified something, we could fix it,” she said. She said the process takes much longer now due to required coordination.
Coordination is something Epperson understands. She earned her master’s degree in Public Administration by coordinating a schedule between work and family that allowed her to complete her college milestones in the evenings. “I do things by milestones,” said Epperson. “First was completing 24 hours of accounting, and then getting my associates. From there I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree, and also my MPA. I tease the husband that I’m going for a law degree now.”
Not even a law degree would’ve helped Epperson as she recounted a pay problem in 1996 that took two years to resolve because the Corps was the only government agency paid by DFAS with power plants so the issue didn’t get top priority. “That’s the frustration, you can’t get things fixed as fast,” she said. “You don’t have a pay tech that you can call to easily explain the issue. We all now have to do everything in writing.”
Epperson traveled to most of the Corps districts and trained all the timekeepers. Working with timekeepers on a day-to-day basis and working with people was her great joys of her job, but it was also challenging dealing with upset employees. “Having to explain the debt is the hardest,” she said.
Epperson worked with employees throughout all of USACE. From the Senior Executive Staff members to the lower pay grades on the payroll, she helped them individually with their payroll issues when the answer wasn’t readily available in their districts.
Some of the more prevalent issues continuing to surface are pay entitlements, and home leave. When civilians were being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan the payroll system was programmed to automatically show a 360-hour leave ceiling if you got home leave. “That wasn’t true, Epperson said softly. She said the increased ceiling is only given with a Temporary Change of Station. She said it’s very hard to go back and tell somebody, “You have an extra 120 hours that you’re really not entitled to. I could only tell them sorry you can’t take these hours with you into retirement.”
Epperson also mentored many Customer Service Representatives in the districts. “I’ve known Annette for about 30 years. She was my supervisor from 1988 through 1992. She was a great supervisor always willing to share her accounting knowledge,” said Maureen Smith, Program Analyst for Environmental and Munitions Center of Expertise, Huntsville Engineering and Support Center. Omaha District was known Corps-wide for military accounting expertise because Epperson taught her employees how to read and understand the databases behind the accounting system screens, Smith added.
Epperson was a team leader for the CSRs in the Omaha District and served as Chief of Military Accounting. She and the accounting staff of 10 to 12 people were part of the centralized finance center serving both the Omaha and Kansas City districts.
During a Customer Service Representative conference Epperson received a shadow box full of Commander’s Challenge Coins. It showed the CSR’s appreciation for Epperson and all that she has provided over the many years. “It’s just amazing,” she said. Adding to her previous collection of 18 coins, Epperson received 69 coins and added number 70 and 71, with two more in the mail.
Even more overwhelming was the presentation of the Bronze de Fleury Medal. Epperson was in Millington, Tenn. doing her last bit of turnover with her replacement. Her supervisor Lee Autry, asked her to come to his office, but instead led her into the conference room where about 15 staff members were already assembled. She was being presented with one of the highest medals for a civilian employee. “It is unbelievable,” she said. “And I had to take a picture and send it to my husband immediately, only to realize when I left the building that afternoon that it hadn’t gone through the send cycle,” she chuckled. But as Epperson walked out of the building, three hours later her phone sent the photo and she shared this amazing conclusion to her career with family.
It’s family that Epperson will focus on now. “I have sisters that mean the world to me and time with them is paramount now,” she said. Epperson also described the moments she looks forward to in spending with her two sons and five grandchildren.
As the praise for Epperson continues to ring among her co-workers, “I’m dancing out the door,” she giggled. “But I’ll be back.”
In the spring she is returning to teach a class for emergency management on timekeeping, saying it’s a headquarters class and plans are still in the works.
So as another fiscal year came to a close, so did the career of the USACE Payroll Program Manager.