OPM renews attack on processing backlog

Following several unsuccessful attempts to overhaul the federal employee retirement system, the Office of Personnel Management has just released a new strategic plan with modest goals of making targeted improvements in processing rather than modernizing the existing system, officials said at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Feb. 1.

Under OPM’s new Strategic Plan for Retirement Services, released on Jan. 17, the agency expects to eliminate its retirement processing backlog and accurately process 90 percent of cases within 60 days, John Berry, director of OPM, said in testimony presented at the hearing.

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“The current delays in retirement processing are unacceptable and eliminating the current backlog is my highest priority for 2012,” Berry said.

The backlog elimination and 60-day processing timeline would be achieved by July of 2013, he added.

One of the steps being taken to reduce the current backlog is to hire additional Legal Administrative Specialists to process pending claims. While OPM currently employs 130 such specialists, it is creating 40 new specialist positions and filling 16 vacant positions, while working within budget constraints, Berry said.

The agency also will make changes to the existing system to allow retirees to access and update their accounts and automate the application process.

However, under the new plan, OPM’s goals for processing new claims have been scaled back to a significant degree, said Valerie Melvin, director of information management and technology resources issues for the Government Accountability Office, who also testified.

The new timeline for claims processing represents a “a substantial reduction” from the agency’s fiscal year 2009 goal to accurately process 99 percent of cases within 30 Days, Melvin said.

Also related to the performance goals, Patrick McFarland, OPM’s inspector general, requested that OPM develop interim goals toward the 18-month benchmarks so that it can track its progress in meeting those milestones.

In addition, OPM’s new plan does not address when, or how, the existing legacy processing system would be modernized, Melvin added.

“The plan does not describe whether or how the agency intends to modify or decommission the over 80 legacy systems that support retirement processing,” Melvin said. It “does not address improving or eliminating the legacy systems that support retirement processing.

GAO has released several audits in recent years outlining failed attempts by OPM to modernize the retirement processing system. The watchdog agency has noted that longstanding information technology management shortcomings at the agency have hindered the success of those efforts.

Melvin made no new recommendations in her testimony.

The sponsor of the hearing was the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.

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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