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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Reader comments

Tue, Dec 8, 2015

What a crock of bs. Now, 3 years later (12/2015) service has gotten worse... not better. I sent in all the required paperwork to drop my survivor's benefits since my divorce in 2011, and collect 4 years worth of payments taken from my annuity, since I did not realize that they had still been taking it out of my gross annuity. It's now been 11 months of phone calls with no answer. And my Congressman's inquiries also, which they just blow him off. I retired 15 years early due to the agency that I worked for having been found guilty of intentional abuse and/or error directed towards me. Now, I'm still getting the runaround. The government could care less about taking care of it's own people, over immigrants.

Mon, Apr 9, 2012 Robert Heagy California

I am a park ranger who retired 6C as of June 1 2011. I get $170 interim payment and bills from FEDVIP for VSP and dental that eat that up.I have yet to receive a full annuity and my stipend. I read that the hope to resolve the back log in 18 months. Do they really mean that I may go two and a half years unpaid? Will there be and compensation for the additional expenses I have incured ?

Sun, Feb 19, 2012

its been five months since i retired after 40 years of government service and have yet to gety my full retirement pay -this interim pay is not helping me very much and i just barely make it from month to month ,i can not print what i really feel about opm since all they seem to do is lie and give me a runaround when i call

Thu, Feb 9, 2012

"Berry last month released a strategic plan outlining how he plans to fix retirement processing, and pledged to make it his top priority this year." What was his top priority last year? Sudoku? His golf score?2l5z

Fri, Feb 3, 2012

I worked for USDA-FSA and just retired 12/31/11. My comment is that where I worked we served 600-700 farmers and we were often told we had two weeks to do a complete signup or to pay those 700 farmers plus all the landowners and to get it done in 3 weeks. We just had to buck up and do it, so what is the problem with the OPM retirement department why do they get months to finish this process and get us paid, while the retirees go without pay/or with a small portion of their retirement for months. First off I got no help through the retirement procedure from our STO. Big decision and I always thought it was their job to guide the retiree through the process........ but I got the response, more than once, "I can't help you with that, because you might come back on me". I wasn't asking them to make the decisions for me, just to give me the facts. I would have lost my job if I had said I couldn't serve our farmers and help them through the program signup because they might come back on me. Get real, we all should have to do the job we were hired to do. After 26 years of service I really didn't think the retirement process was good at all. Didn't seem like much appreciation for years of hard work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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