The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into the backlog of outstanding retirement claims at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and what OPM can do to improve the efficiency of the process.
“While OPM continues to study how to best modernize retirement processing, it is critical that OPM ensure the current paper processing system is efficiently meeting the needs of retiring federal workers,” wrote the Committee members in their letter.
Specifically, the Committee wanted to know the following:
- Is guidance from OPM clear on how information should be saved in an employee’s file so that it may be quickly accessed during the retirement claims process?
- Are agencies following that guidance?
- What causes certain agencies to have high error rates in retirement processing?
- What can OPM, federal agencies, federal employees, and Congress do to decrease the amount of time it takes to process a retirement claim?
In 2008, OPM announced it was developing computer software to automate processing its retirement applications. However, shortly after the work began, OPM then said it was cancelling the project at a cost of several hundred million dollars and returning to the manual paper process to deal with the applications. See Back to the Future: OPM and the Federal Employee Retirement Tsunami for details.
Since that time, OPM has consistently had a backlog of claims, and its solution is to hire more workers to push the paper. In 2012, OPM said the backlog was growing and that it would hire more workers. Earlier this year, acting director Beth Cobert said OPM needed more money so it could hire even more people to deal with the backlog. As of the end of September, the backlog stood at just over 15,000 applications.
Now the problem has gotten the attention of a House Committee. If GAO conducts the requested investigation, it will be interesting to see what solutions are recommended and what impact, if any, it ultimately has on OPM’s process for handling the retirement applications.
A copy of the Committee’s letter is included below.