OPM plans investments in health and hiring systems

The Office of Personnel Management plans to invest money in efforts to track federal employees' health claims, strengthen its financial management system, and improve government jobs websites and automated federal employee databases, the agency said in filings released on Friday.

The Capital Asset Plans that OPM submitted to the Office of Management and Budget offer more details about how OPM intends to use a database of federal employee health information, a proposal President Obama outlined in the fiscal 2011 budget. OPM Director John Berry told lawmakers in March that the database would link claims filed with the 10 largest Federal Employees Health Benefits Program plans and pharmacy benefit managers to demographic data to determine how effective providers were at improving participants' health and keeping costs down.

In the filing with OMB, the personnel agency noted the database would bring the federal government in line with private sector practices on large health care plans. FEHBP covered 8 million individuals at a cost of $36 billion in fiscal 2008, OPM said, but there's no way to fully assess the results of that spending.

"This lack of data limits OPM's ability to actively manage this program," the agency acknowledged in the filing. Once the database is established, OPM will be "better positioned to assure value and to hold providers accountable for the services they provide to federal employees and retirees," it stated.

OPM also is planning to bring its financial management system up to 1996 Federal Financial Management Improvement Act standards, the document said. The current financial system cannot be redesigned to fully meet the requirements established under that law, according to the filing. OPM has struggled with financial management in recent years, and considered transferring its financial management operations to the Treasury Department. But that plan fizzled in 2006. In October 2009, OPM updated its salary and expenses system. The agency also is moving toward modernizing a program to handle the processes around the retirement trust fund, the source of federal annuities. OPM noted in its filings that an integrated and updated system would provide agencies more timely and transparent financial information.

A third filing explained several short-term programs that OPM intends to build through USAJobs.gov that could have an immediate impact on the federal government's workforce.

Among those initiatives are development of a portal to train federal recruiters and help them with planning and implementing their strategies; standardized assessments for 12 types of positions that agencies fill frequently; and a career discovery tool that would direct federal applicants at every level of the General Schedule system to the jobs best-suited to their skills and interests.

On a broader level, OPM plans to spend money on a centralized database of electronic retirement information and a standardized file employees can access to make sure their personnel information is accurate. The agency also plans to debut an updated retirement calculator.

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