Retirees shouldn’t hold their breath for automated annuity payments

Transition away from the paper-based system has been put on hold until OPM has a chance to come up with a new game plan.

Delays in the rollout of the Office of Personnel Management's $136 million electronic retirement claims processing system could require continued patience from federal retirees waiting for annuity checks.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra on Monday announced that about 30 high-risk information technology projects, collectively worth $30 billion, are underperforming, adding those initiatives will be slowed until officials can get them back on track, and possibly cut. In a call with reporters, Kundra said the OPM retirement system project has essentially halted.

"It is slowed down as far as spending," he said. "The intent is to make sure that these projects are turned around, that they are implemented faster."

The retirement systems modernization effort was designed to update and automate annuity claims processing. The current paper-based process is plagued by incomplete retirement applications, a lack of real-time information, inaccurate data and payment delays. The updated system will be a central place for storing electronic retirement data compiled from agencies and shared service centers. Plans also call for a management tool to access imaged retirement documents; an online retirement application for use by applicants, payroll offices and OPM; and a more streamlined tool for collecting data used to determine retirement annuity.

Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, said while most federal retirees haven't experienced problems with their payments, the process can be complex when factoring in sick leave, conversion from the Civil Service Retirement System to the Federal Employees Retirement System and paperwork transferred between multiple employers. A good model for this process doesn't exist, she said.

"Hopefully [retirees] think about it in advance, allow time and do not assume they will get their first check three weeks after they walk out the door," Bonosaro said.

OPM Chief Information Officer Matthew Perry told reporters Monday the agency is trying to modernize the primarily paper-based system. But OPM couldn't provide any further details on the initiative's progress or plans for the future.

"Director Berry wants to make sure people are getting their checks on time," said Edmund Byrnes, an OPM spokesman. "He's focused less on the bells and whistles."

Bonosaro said a governmentwide IT system for collecting personnel data would be a better long-term solution.

"The more complicated cases do take more time and can be more frustrating," she said. "If they could have said, 'OK, let's have a system for the simple cases,' it would have been up and working already."

Northrop Grumman Corp., which holds a $42 million contract for the project, declined to comment.