Lawmakers lambast OPM for jobs site glitches, slow retirement processing

Pete Marovich/Newscom
Lawmakers took the Office of Personnel Management to task for glitches in its relaunched USAJobs website and for inadequate federal worker retirement claims processing, during a House oversight panel hearing on Tuesday.

During questioning from members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Director John Berry stood by OPM's decision to bring the redesign of the federal jobs board in-house rather than contract it out to Monster.com.

"Taxpayers are now paying for a system that doesn't work, costs more and takes money away from the private sector," Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., chairman of the subcommittee, said in his opening statement.

Berry said security breaches of Monster.com's servers in 2007 and 2009 spurred the in-house operation. Those incidents resulted in the theft of 146,000 federal employee resumes while the company was still running USAJobs 2.0, Berry said. With the operation in-house, the government can more closely monitor its employee information, he testified.

But Executive Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer Patrick Manzo stated that Monster.com had taken steps to improve its security following the 2009 breach, and that he believed the company could do a better job operating USAJobs than OPM.

"Just because it is on a government computer system does not mean that it is safer than a commercial computer system," Manzo said.

Also of concern during the hearing was the pace at which OPM is processing federal worker retirement claims. Ross said OPM had a backlog of 60,000 retirement claims to be processed, with no business plan to bring claims procedures up to date. An OPM spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the number.

As more federal agencies push to reduce payroll, there will soon be many more retirees, including up to 120,000 from the U.S. Postal Service and thousands more from NASA, the Government Accountability Office and the Defense Department. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., ranking member of the subcommittee, warned that the upcoming wave of retirees combined with OPM's dwindling resources and already slow pace would create a "perfect storm" for the agency.

"This is a mess and it can't continue, and it looks like it's going to get worse," Lynch said.

The logjam in OPM retirement processing dates back to the 1980s. Since 1987, the agency has made four separate failed attempts to automate its retirement processing. Its most recent effort was launched in 2008 and terminated in February. GAO reported in 2008 that OPM lacked proper benchmarks for progress in addition to a long-term plan and an oversight body.

Valerie Melvin, information management and human capital issues director at GAO, testified Tuesday that OPM is more equipped to handle small-scale changes than wholesale ones. Melvin praised OPM for beginning to address GAO's 19 recommendations. "I would not want to imply that they have the full capability at this point to move forward," she added.

"We are not in control yet," Berry admitted, referring to OPM's lack of a business plan for tackling its retiree backlog and automating retirement accounts. But he said a plan is on the way "in the very near future" and the agency is restructuring its available resources to make retirement processing more efficient.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of retirement claims OPM Director John Berry said his agency processes each day. OPM's press office could not confirm the actual number Wednesday.

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