An Open Letter to Katherine Archuleta

The author suggests a solution for improved calculation of the FERS annuity supplement in an open letter to nominee for OPM director Katherine Archuleta.

Director Archuleta:

Congratulations on your appointment!

Back in 1999 or so, I had occasion to talk to an OPM employee about doing retirement claims.  He told me that when he did them – prior to his current management job – he had no difficulty finishing 8-10 CSRS cases per day, but FERS was different, sharply different.  For FERS, he said he was “lucky” if he could complete just three in eight hours!  Unfortunately, I did not ask him to explain.

On October 20, 2003, your (name redacted)* emailed me work stats regarding FERS retirement claims.  Specifically, he said before FACES it took 3.53 hours to do a FERS claim, and after FACES was implemented the time was reduced to 2.67 hours.  This dovetailed nicely with what the first fellow said.

Then I found that the actual source of the problem was, and still is, the FERS annuity supplement.   Calculation of the supplement is quite lengthy and intricate, as I am sure you know.  An entire 44-page chapter of the CSRS & FERS Handbook (chapter 51) is dedicated to calculation of the supplement.  Forty four pages!

How bad is it?  Even experts avoid a full explanation.  Reg Jones, benefits columnist for the Federal Times, was head of OPM’s Retirement and Insurance Service before his retirement.  In his “Ask the Experts” column, Mr. Jones was asked about calculation of the “Special Retirement Supplement.” Jones responded:

The formula for calculating the SRS is too complicated for mere mortals to execute, so a  simpler method has been devised.  It isn’t exact, but it’s close. Here it is: Take your annual estimated  Social Security benefit at age 62 (as provided by SSA) and divide it by 40.  Then, multiply the product (sic) times the number of years you have been (or will be) covered by FERS.  –  Feb 17, 2005

With each year that passes, the FERS system matures further, and there are more FERS retirements and thus more FERS annuity supplements than the year before.  The inordinate time-per-case for FERS is making your workload progressively heavier.  Throwing money at the problem by hiring more staff and working more overtime has failed; it simply consumes more taxpayer dollars and does nothing whatever to address the root cause of your difficulty.

CSRS cases are easy.  FERS cases – minus the supplement – are easy.  Death and disability cases are not especially easy, nor FERS transfer, but these are a rather small part of your overall workload.

No, the  FERS annuity supplement is most definitely the 800 pound gorilla.  You must deal with him.


Hire a contractor to design, code, and help implement a world-class, dedicated computer program for calculation of the annuity supplement.  To produce what you need will take approximately 100-200 hours over a three-month period.  This computer program will, in and of itself, go a long, long way toward resolving your formidable backlog, your embarrassing slowness, congressional complaints, profligate spending, etc.  I am confident the time for working annuity supplements will be cut by more than 80%, with a concomitant reduction in the overall workload.

Director Archuleta, for years, I have been closely watching OPM.  It is time to stop with the big-money, monolithic, multi-year projects that benefit nobody but the contractors.  Instead, focus on the root cause of your problems, by having one, comparatively small computer program developed, at a truly nominal cost in time and money, and start smiling.  This is a win-win initiative with virtually no downside!

In the interests of full disclosure, I must acknowledge that some time ago I developed widely used software for calculating the annuity supplement, and I update it annually.  This is how I know how intricate and lengthy the calculation is, and why I am dismayed the calculation process has not been automated!  This is also the basis for my estimate of development time, above.

Whatever you decide to do, I wish you success.  Thank you for your consideration.


Robert F. Benson


* Program and Management Analyst, Operations Support Group.  Email available on request.  (The Reg Jones comment is also available.  Just ask.)

About the Author

Robert Benson served 35 years in various Federal agencies, as both a management analyst and IT specialist. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.