Treasury's Russell Morris To Lead Its War on Paper

Russell D. Morris has been chosen to lead the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service into a paperless future.

As the newly appointed commissioner of the Treasury unit, Mr. Morris, 50, oversees the $2 trillion of collections and disbursements that flow in and out of the government's coffers each year.

A hands-on manager with a strong payment-systems background, Mr. Morris said he plans to hold the agency to the course set by his predecessor and mentor, William E. Douglas.

A Paper-Laden Past

Mr. Douglas, who retired in August after 11 years as commissioner, presided over an era of dramatic change in which the Financial Management Service moved from a paper-laden bureaucracy to a more efficient cash manager.

"We took the Treasury from an entity that was very passive and regulation-oriented to an organization that views government cash flow as a Treasury problem," said Mr. Morris.

Since 1983, the Financial Management Service has saved taxpayers $7 billion with its cash management, credit, and debt collection programs, according to Michael Smokovich, assistant deputy commissioner for federal finance at the Treasury unit.

Driving Force Behind EFT

Mr. Morris, with Mr. Douglas' support, was credited with driving the Financial Management Service's shift to electronic funds transfer. The Treasury unit has already succeeded in moving about 50% of its Social Security and veteran's benefits to direct deposit and hopes to reach 80% by the end of the decade.

Probably the biggest challenge Mr. Morris faces is getting those who administer government programs to adopt his own goals of asset management and financial accountability, according to some observers.

"One of Russ's principal strength is finding the right things to do, and then persuading others to focus on them," said Mr. Smokovich.

Financial Management Service personnel are said to be pleased with the appointment of Mr. Russell, who is expected to be a lower-key boss than his hard-driving predecessor. He heads a staff of 2,295. In the process of automating the Treasury unit, Mr. Douglas frequently shifted personnel around to broaden their experience.

Mr. Morris, who served for the past year and a half as deputy commissioner, is Mr. Douglas' hand-picked successor. "I'm very pleased such a knowledgeable payments expert was chosen to take over the responsibility, instead of a political appointeee," said George White, president of White Papers Inc., a consultant based in Montclair, N.J.

Doctorate in Finance

Born and raised on a farm in Ohio, Mr. Morris began his career as bond portfolio manager for Hungtington Bank, Columbus. In 1970 he joined the Federal Reserve Board in Washington and was involved in the early stages of the automated clearing house system, through which direct deposits are transmitted.

He also helped set up the Fed's highly automated regional check processing centers. He wrote a dissertion on the project, thereby earning his PhD in finance at Ohio State University. In 1973, Mr. Morris moved to the U.S. Postal Service, where he served as general manager and assistant treasurer in cash management and financial planning.

Central Accounting System

His next challenge will be oversee the multimillion-dollar System 90, a central accounting system that by 1995 is expected to automate all Financial Management Service interactions with government agencies - payments, claims, and reconciliations.

"We can't afford to stay on the leading edge, but if we can stay on what I call the aileron - or trailing edge - of technology, then I think we're doing pretty well," said Mr. Morris.

Mr. Morris' wife, Rebecca, deals with the federal bureaucracy as Social Security administrator for the City of Baltimore. "That's real world, where they are trying to get claims paid for people," Mr. Morris. "That helps me by giving me a real appreciation for the value of what we're providing."

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