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OPM announces another overhaul of federal retiree system

By Joe Davidson
Anne Bartlett

By the Post's Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson:

In the latest attempt to fix a dysfunctional federal retiree program, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry announced Wednesday yet another overhaul of a system that now leaves retirees waiting months for their checks.

Berry said he is adding 80 people to a current retirement processing staff of 130, in hopes of making a significant cut in the 138 days it now takes to process claims.

Staffing cutbacks at OPM, similar to those other agencies experienced during the Bush administration, is one reason for the long waits. The 130 employees processed 98,000 claims in fiscal 2010, just slightly fewer than the number handled by 178 workers in 2006, according to OPM.

Berry said 40 new staff members would be hired and another 40 would be transferred from other OPM offices for six months to help deal with the backlog. They will focus only on retirement claims, and not also deal with health and insurance issues that the office handled in the past.

"There is no question that we face a lot of problems and that here has been an ugly history in our retirement processing area," Berry told reporters.

That history includes repeated failed attempts to computerize a federal retirement system that now largely relies on pieces of paper.

Berry said OPM will continue attempts to automate the system, but it will do so incrementally.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Joe Davidson  | October 20, 2010; 2:52 PM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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I was told that it would take up to 7 months to finalize because so many Post Office employees have retired. The addition of more staff is a welcome first step.

Posted by: jaydauve | October 20, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Too bad it took negative publicity to get Berry's attention. At least he seems interested in addressing the problem, but only time will tell.

Posted by: RCFriedman | October 20, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

I wish that Obama would dismiss Berry and replace him with someone that has some real federal personnel experience. I know he loves to grand-stand in front of cameras with all his glory ideas. But it seems nothing gets done. The program isn't dysfunctional... it is the whole agency! They spotlight and claim-to-fame that they revamped the hiring process and system... HA! It is overlaoded and bloated with so many problems... they re-dress the with a bunch of colors and pictures, and claim it is revamped. They require agencies to stop using KSAs, but I see MOST agencies using things like application manager with their 50 questions (a glorified KSA and a pre-interview without even being a true qualified applicant). They claim there are too many applicants for each announcement. HA! It's has ALWAYS been like that Einstein. LEARN how to screen applicants and quit using computer generated words or phrases.

So Berry's plan here MIGHT resolve a little catch up... but in 6 months, it will be right back to the same spew!

Lastly, someone needs their head examined if they can't think they know how to automate anything! Sure, there maybe be a few complex cases... but automate the majority... the easy ones. Naw, they just let them build up... and they wonder why they have a back log.

Lastly, since OPM workers can't seem to do their job, maybe this is one agency that needs to be totally revamped!!! from top down!

Posted by: darbyohara | October 21, 2010 6:41 AM | Report abuse

I know something has to give. My 90 days was up on 10 October but I was told it could be as long as June of 2011 because they are so backlogged! This is way out of control--other companies do it in weeks the govt needs to get better at what they do---

Posted by: catlady971 | October 21, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

It took OPM 6 months to process a deposit to cover a brief period of decades old FICA service, but only 1 day to cash my check. I guess I better have a large reserve of cash on hand to hold me when I eventually retire.

Posted by: petrus1 | October 21, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

OMG! I'm planning to retire in June, and it appears I'm already behind the power curve! Let's take a deep breath, though. John Berry didn't create this backlog. John Berry didn't cut OPM's funding or manpower. Do a quick left face and take a look at the geniuses on Capitol Hill. THIS is but one of the results of their shortsighted, ill-informed, downright ignorant thinking. For all you retirees who have to wait 90 days to get your first check, you need to target those who are responsible for this. Thank your bloviating politicians on the Hill.

Posted by: SolarWind71 | October 21, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I retired in 1997 during the Clinton administration. It took OPM until June of 1998 to process my retirement. Also, when I retired, OPM dropped my wife from my health insurance. It took four months to be able to contact a live person to talk to about this and another two months to get it straitened out. Retirement issues at OPM are non-partisan so don't blame just President Bush.

Posted by: novahorn | October 21, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I would be -very- hesitant about trying to automate the retirement process, even if I knew how, because, given the nature of the Congress, the Press, and the citizens of these United States, when slip-ups occur, and they will, it will be on the front page of the WaPo, Congress will get all bothered, and the people will -demand- everyone's head.

And I wonder: How many companies process 100,000 retirements a year? Any company that did would certainly be large enough to have more than 130 people doing it. Or they'd outsource it.

Posted by: Ex-Fed | October 21, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

In this day and age, why is OPM having so much trouble transitioning from a paper system to an electronic system? I realize there are many items to be transitioned, but how long is it going to take? They need to get into the 21st century. This would speed up the claim processing volume tremendously.

Posted by: violette1 | October 21, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

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