Funding request for retirement system just a start for OPM

The Office of Personnel Management’s retirement systems modernization program is the agency’s top fiscal priority in 2007. Not only will officials ensure funding for the complex and important program is shepherded through Congress for this year, but it is planning an offensive for the project for the 2008 budget as well.

OPM director Linda Springer said there is no more important priority than RSM, and even though Congress will fund the initiative at only about 50 percent of President Bush’s request of $27 million for this year, the agency hopes to raise its request beyond the $15 million that is in the 2008 budget sent to the Hill yesterday.

“We will work with Congress for this year because we didn’t get all we needed in 2007,” she said at a budget briefing with reporters. “Everyone — all three branches of government — understands the importance of this system.”

The retirement systems modernization will give federal workers, retirees and authorized agency officials open and immediate online access to retirement-related records and benefits elections. OPM last May awarded a $290 million contract award to Hewitt Associates of Lincolnshire, Ill., to build the system. It also awarded a $40 million contract to Accenture to provide more efficient IT and business systems to expedite how retirees receive retirement benefit checks.

The project, which has been attempted at least two other times, ran into trouble almost immediately after OPM awarded the contract to Hewitt as the House withdrew funding for it. The Senate restored it a few months later, but OPM’s spending bill for 2007 is one of many that have yet to be passed.

Springer said OPM likely will receive between $13 million and $14 million from Congress for 2007 under the continuing resolution the House passed last week.

The funding shortfall will have no impact on RSM in 2007 because OPM is using money that does not expire from previous attempts at building a retirement system, she said.

“We will use all the money in the account,” said Springer, who did not know how much is in the account. “We were planning to use that money anyways, but now we will just use it up faster.”

The initiative still is moving forward as planned — converting 6,000 paper files to digital ones each day. OPM is targeting March 2008 to let the first employees, who use the General Services Administration’s payroll system, access their retirement records online.

OPM’s other large IT initiatives, such as the Human Resources Line of Business Consolidation effort, and its five e-government projects, also were among the agency’s priorities. Springer said working with the insurance carriers to adopt health IT is included in that area.

OPM’s request for the HR LOB is down to $7.8 million in 2008 from $8.3 million in 2007.

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