OPM's Berry finds it 'incredibly crazy' that claims process not automated yet

The Office of Personnel Management’s longstanding uphill battle with handling retirement claims could finally see a respite next spring when top officials plan to release framework aimed at automating the entire process.

Speaking before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, John Berry, OPM director, addressed the reform to clear the retirement claims backlog and overhaul the mostly paper-based process model.

The timely issuance of annuity payments has long been a struggle for OPM, and a matter of concern for the Government Accountability Office. In the last several years, GAO listed OPM’s overhaul of retirement claims processing in its Top Management Challenges memorandum, Patrick McFarland, inspector general of OPM, noted in February 2012.

OPM officials in January 2012 unveiled a new strategic plan to address the backlog and have since submitted monthly progress reports to the federal workforce subcommittee. “Our goal is to get to where every retirement can be processed within 60 days,” Berry said. “That’s our target, and we promised we would reach that by next summer.”

The backlog has dipped from 60,000 cases to 40,000 cases, and OPM has managed to stay ahead of schedule despite an unexpected spike in retirements, Berry said. “Last month, we got hit with a big infusion of postal worker retirements, and our hope is that without more surprises we can continue stay on this plan,” he added. “So far, so good.”

OPM also has been reporting to the workforce committee on the accuracy of retirement claims forms it's getting from agencies. The goal is to get agencies with high rates of inaccurate or incomplete files “tighten their game and greatly help us,” Berry said.

The retirement claims procedure has largely been a paper-based process, and OPM’s last sweeping attempt to automate this process was the Retirement Systems Modernization project. The initiative was plagued with challenges and was canceled in 2011 after failing to meet its objective to reduce the backlog.

“Clearly, we can't keep going like we're doing," Berry said. "We’re stuck in this paper-pencil process because in terms of the records we have, [they] aren't automated in many cases. Some of the files we get have some automated data, but not all. These issues are going to be ongoing for a while.”

Berry and his staff have been working with U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel and Kathy Dillaman, associate director of OPM’s Federal Investigative Services Division, to develop an IT strategy, which Berry said he hoped to present to OMB next spring with the 2014 budget. The plan will include short-, medium- and long-term approaches on how OPM can turn the retirement-claims processing into an electronic procedure.

“It’s incredibly crazy that it’s not already, but we have to deal with reality and getting there will be in this plan that we lay out on how that’s going to occur,” Berry said.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Wed, Jan 23, 2013 Jack Detroit, Mi

I retired the end of August 2012 OPM received my application in September. My case was assigned to a specialist December 13th and here it is January 23, 2013 and I am still not finalized. This is totally unexceptionable. When you call OMP and get through to a person they tell you it should be finalized in a few days. I've heard that now since December.

Tue, Oct 9, 2012 Paul

Social Security can complete your Social Security retirement claim and have payment set up in one day unless you have something unusual and unexpected that affects benefit calculations.

Thu, Oct 4, 2012 retiree wash, dc

Seriously? The OPM Director thinks its crazy? Well then DO something about it! You are the one in the hot seat - uou are the one with the power to make a change! Hire some retireess to come help out with the manual process!

Thu, Sep 27, 2012

Give it the USPS to automate. They worked on automating forms in 1998 and it was good! I believe the knowledge is there in Washington to get the job automated. Having been a retirement counselor for USPS, it is disheartening that our federal retirees are having to wait so long, PLUS death claims are taking nine months.

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 BOP Retiree Hesperia, Ca.

I retired April 30, 2012. I am still waiting for my full monthly payment. I am hearing 150 days +...but who knows?

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