Senators to OPM: Your Retirement Claims Processing Is So 1977

Lawmakers tell OPM its system is old-fashioned and wasting government money.

A bipartisan group of senators on Friday condemned the Office of Personnel Management for wasting “millions of taxpayer dollars” every year by continuing to use an antiquated system to process retirement claims from former federal employees.

The lawmakers called the largely analog system “unacceptable,” noting the average processing time -- 61 days -- is the same today as it was in 1977. Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., wrote a letter to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta to voice their displeasure after The Washington Post released a scathing report on the inefficiencies of the agency’s claims processing.

OPM has been working on revamping the system for nearly three decades but has made very little progress, the senators said.

“Over the last 30 years, OPM has aborted its own modernization efforts because of a lack of planning and accountability,” they wrote. “The result of these failed efforts has been significant cost to the taxpayer with virtually nothing to show for it. This is unacceptable for the over 5 million active and retired federal employees who rely on timely and accurate processing of their retirement benefits.”

In a blog post released earlier this week, Archuleta boasted OPM has made significant progress on reducing outstanding claims, but conceded the agency must still improve.

“[OPM] is committed to the accurate and timely processing of retirement claims to federal retirees,” Archuleta wrote. “In recent months, we have taken steps to reduce the backlog in processing federal employee retirement requests, addressed the needs of the Retirement Services (RS) Information Technology system and improved customer service in RS.”

Archuleta admitted the agency remains partially paper based, but said it “has begun a gradual transition to a fully digital process.” OPM recently released a new “strategic information technology plan,” which will move the agency away from old-fashioned processing.

In their letter, the lawmakers asked for more details on how the modernization would occur, and promised to monitor the agency’s progress.