The Office of Personnel Management is making another push to resolve cases of federal employees placed in the wrong retirement system.
Numerous employees have complained about the slow pace in fixing errors that were made by their agencies and through no fault of their own. Widespread concerns about the issue surfaced about seven years ago, prompting Congress to pass the Federal Erroneous Retirement Coverage Corrections Act of 2000.
Today, Kay Coles James, the OPM director, will announce that a contract has been awarded to provide a software program, called a calculator, to help 5,144 current and retired federal employees make a decision on which retirement system to join, OPM said.
A separate contract will be awarded soon to make counselors available to employees and retirees who want individual financial counseling services before selecting a retirement system, OPM said.
In a statement prepared for the contract announcement, James said the initial OPM efforts to help affected employees "did not meet the standard they deserve."
She added: "I believe our increased oversight of this project will be welcomed by those who were impacted. OPM has redoubled our efforts to remedy this situation and to treat our employees and retirees with full respect."
Officials at OPM originally estimated that cases involving possible retirement errors could be examined and wrapped up within two years. But the adjudication process has gone slowly, frustrating employees concerned that they could be at risk of losing significant amounts of retirement income.
The retirement errors have been traced to 1983, when Congress decided to place new government hires under the Social Security system. By 1986, Congress had set up the Federal Employees Retirement System and the Thrift Savings Plan, a 401(k)-type program, and effectively closed the Civil Service Retirement System to new members.
But in 1984, Congress changed its mind about some of the rules for who would shift into Social Security, and some agencies apparently did not get the word. Because of that and confusion during the transition, numerous employees were placed in the wrong system.
OPM said 5,144 current and retired employees registered under the law have been deemed eligible to decide which retirement system to join. More than half of the 11,264 people who registered were found to be in the right retirement system or had been transferred into the right system by their agency in what was judged to be a timely manner, OPM said.
About 200 current and former federal employees are waiting for eligibility determinations, OPM said.
Battle Over Outsourcing
The House will take up a controversial outsourcing issue this week when Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) offers an amendment to a spending bill that would send the Office of Management and Budget back to the drawing board on the rules for job competitions.
Congress has modified the rules for the Defense Department and may alter them for the Interior Department. "Rather than do it on this ad hoc basis . . . let's come up with a uniform system that is fair and balanced," Van Hollen said.
OMB, in a statement, said Van Hollen's amendment "would effectively shut down the administration's competitive sourcing initiative" and warned that its adoption could lead to a veto of the spending bill.
Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, which represents federal contractors, said the Van Hollen amendment would "impede competition" aimed at making the government operate more efficiently.
Van Hollen prevailed last year on the House floor, but his provision was scaled back by House-Senate negotiators and limited to agencies covered under the Transportation and Treasury appropriations bill.
Focus on HSAs
Got questions about health savings accounts?
OPM has launched a special Web site (www.opm.gov/hsa) to explain how the new option in the federal employee health insurance program will work.
At noon Wednesday, Abby L. Block, deputy associate director at OPM, will take your questions and comments about HSAs on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline. Please join us.