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OPM's Efforts to Modernize Retirement System Sorely Lacking, GAO Finds

John Berry, who took over as OPM director on April 13, said he wants to make the retirement process
John Berry, who took over as OPM director on April 13, said he wants to make the retirement process "as simple and seamless" as possible. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
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By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Office of Personnel Management just can't seem to get this retirement thing right.

For more than two decades, the OPM has been trying to modernize retirement planning for federal employees. But despite some serious efforts, "the agency's retirement modernization initiative remains at risk of failure."

That's what the Government Accountability Office said in a report released yesterday. Essentially, it blames bad management.

With a tone that hints at exasperation, yet without forfeiting its professionally detached approach, the GAO documents a series of problems with the OPM's attempt to move away from a paper-and-pencil system (or should that be rock and chisel?) to one that uses today's technology to improve the retirement process and customer service.

"We have an elevated level of concern," Valerie C. Melvin, director of information management and human capital issues at the GAO, said in an interview.

Now it's up to John Berry, who took over as OPM director on April 13, to straighten out this mess. To his credit, and probably because he's not to blame for any of this, he did not get defensive and mealy-mouthed in his response to the GAO findings.

"As OPM's new Director," he wrote in an 11-page letter to the GAO last Wednesday, "I consider one of my first and most important responsibilities to get this program fixed and working so that the retirement experience for government employees is as simple and seamless as current technology allows."

Linda M. Springer, who had Berry's job for three years until last summer, had no comment about the program with a catchy name -- RetireEZ.

Fixing it will be no simple task. The OPM will need much stronger management for the program. Consider these section headlines starting on Page 14 of the report:

-- "OPM Does Not Have a Complete Plan for the Future of the RetireEZ Program."


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