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.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image: looking for code.

    How DOD embraced bug bounties -- and how your agency can, too

    Hack the Pentagon proved to Defense Department officials that outside hackers can be assets, not adversaries.

  • Shutterstock image: cyber defense.

    Why PPD-41 is evolutionary, not revolutionary

    Government cybersecurity officials say the presidential policy directive codifies cyber incident response protocols but doesn't radically change what's been in practice in recent years.

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

Reader comments

Thu, Apr 4, 2013

It's time for OPM to outsource, a contractor can perform more timely & accurately than the bunch of Sloths at OPM. OPM Retirement processing is a failure!

Thu, Jan 5, 2012

I am not surprised at the failure. Too many "old" folks (not referring to age) who resist change and new technology.

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 OccupyIT

Keep up the good work, Alice! Only through transparency and accountabilty can we HOPE to contribute and make things better. Keep digging, there is more to be found and keep asking. "Why?" when they provide glib answers like "privacy" that really are attempts to say, "Don't worry your pretty little head" and "Don't look behind the curtain." They are fuming that IG reports are public and those are just the issues they can stomach to surface. You are our hero! P.S. you will know they are getting nervous when they haul out a contractor to demonize for their 'insourcing' debacle!

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group