OPM failed at modernizing, automating its retirement system, GAO says

Through four presidential administrations, the Office of Personnel Management attempted to modernize its retirement system for 20 years before admitting failure, according to a new federal report.

“For over two decades, OPM has been attempting to modernize its federal employee retirement process by automating paper-based processes and replacing antiquated information systems,” states the Nov. 15 report by the Government Accountability Office, which was meant to be an overview of recent audits.

“However, these efforts have been unsuccessful, and OPM canceled its most recent retirement modernization effort in February 2011,” the report said.

The GAO report may add fodder to arguments by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida, and other critics alleging that the Office of Personnel Management lacks the expertise for complex information technology development programs, based on its recent mishandling of the USAJobs website.

OPM launched the 3.0 version of the USAJobs job search website on Oct. 11. Users submitted about 40,000 Help Desk requests with various complaints about the website in three weeks. OPM officials say they are addressing the problems.

However, the GAO report suggests that IT problems at OPM may run deeper. While the report did not detail the cost of the failed retirement system, it said OPM spent $79 million on IT investments in fiscal 2011.

In the retirement system, GAO identified weaknesses in OPM’s project management, risk management, organizational change management, testing, cost estimates and earned value management.

For example, test results a month prior to the deployment of one of the retirement system’s major components showed that it had not performed as intended. “The defects, along with a compressed testing schedule, increased the risk that the deployed system would not work as intended,” the GAO report said.

GAO made no new recommendations, and did not include a response from OPM managers in the report.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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