The Office of Personnel Management was featured in a new report highlighting numerous examples of wasteful spending in the federal government.
The report is the second annual release by Senator James Lankford (R-OK), and it is a continuation of one published by former Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).
In his latest report, Lankford took OPM to task for continuing to use a manual paper processing system for federal employees’ retirement applications and the resulting (and massive) backlog of outstanding applications that have gathered as a result.
“To call this antiquated system inefficient would be a gross understatement,” wrote Lankford in the report. “OPM’s archaic retirement processing system translates to extremely poor performance rates in processing retirement claims. In FY15 OPM fell far short of its goal of processing 90 percent of retirement claims within 60 days; only 70 percent were completed within this reasonable time frame. As a result, thousands of federal workers from across the country have to wait more than 60 days to receive their earned retirement benefits.”
Lankford said in the report the solution is quite simple: follow the private sector’s lead and use software to automate processing the applications.
According to the report:
Where the federal government fails to provide innovative solutions to satisfy customer demands, the private sector excels. Retirement plan management software has had many years to mature in the private sector. If it cannot quickly design its own system, OPM should look at existing private sector solutions as opposed to trying – and failing – to reinvent the wheel yet again.
The report also suggested that OPM develop a standard set of forms that each agency can use to submit the necessary information to OPM to expedite the application process.
While Lankford’s suggestion certainly makes sense, one problem is that OPM has tried using software before and failed.
As we wrote in 2012, OPM worked with a vendor to develop software for its retirement applications called the RetireEZ computer program.
The OPM director at that time wrote this about the software:
This means you will receive your full annuity at the first payment, rather than after a period of reduced interim payments—eliminating a practice that has disadvantaged new retirees and been a barrier to our ability to achieve the highest level of customer service. This modernization moves Federal agencies from a labor-intensive, paper-based process to a modern, electronic system that contains all the Federal and military service records needed to compute the annuities of Federal employees.
That sounded great, but after two years and hundreds of millions of dollars ultimately wasted on the project, OPM pulled the plug and announced it was going back to the old way of processing the applications via having its employees handling the paper applications. (See Back to the Future: OPM and the Federal Employee Retirement Tsunami)
More recently, acting OPM director Beth Cobert acknowledged that the agency has a big problem with the backlog of retirement applications and said that giving OPM more money would help to solve the problem. She said OPM just needs to hire more employees, so there is obviously no desire on the agency’s part to do what Lankford is suggesting and either develop or purchase existing software to tackle the backlog.
Some other items covered in the report include things such as the NIH studying whether food that has been sneezed on is more or less appetizing, a proposal by the USDA to require gas stations to sell tofu, and a $180,000 grant from the Fish and Wildlife Service to hire an outside group to develop and effective technique to tag and catalog sea ducks.
A copy of the report is included below.