If acknowledgment of a problem is the first step toward fixing it, the Office of Personnel Management took that step Tuesday when it sent a Strategic Plan for Retirement Services to Congress.

OPM’s current retirement services operation is not known for providing service, at least good service, to federal retirees. Tales of long waits for full annuity checks and unanswered calls to OPM have become legendary. The first line of the strategic plan makes the fundamental problem clear:

“Federal employees face unacceptable delays in receiving retirement benefits after years of honorable service to the nation.”

To reverse that situation, OPM plans to hire more staff, fire incompetent workers and reward those who meet increased productivity demands. The goal is to eliminate the retirement claims backlog, which stood at 48,378 on Dec. 31, within 18 months, and then to adjudicate 90 percent of new claims within 60 days.

The plan, which will be formally unveiled Wednesday, follows a November hearing during which Republicans and Democrats on the House federal workforce subcommittee peppered OPM Director John Berry with questions and criticisms about the retirement program.

The plan he sent them has four pillars: people; productivity and process improvement; partnering with agencies; and partial, progressive information technology improvements. If the results are as good as the alliteration, retirees should be in good shape.

Some elements of the plan include:

* People — Develop an “all hands on deck” approach to the problem and hire 56 legal administrative specialists and 20 customer service specialists, which would increase retirement staffing by 10 percent.

* Productivity — Establish higher production expectations for the staff and provide production bonuses in certain cases. Expand work hours and overtime.

*Partners — Improve the accuracy and completeness of claims going to OPM from other federal agencies.

* Partial, progressive IT improvements — “Since previous efforts to automate the entire RS process have failed, automation of the process piece-by-piece will be the path to success of the initiative,” the plan says.

The plan does not need congressional approval, and hiring of new personnel has begun.

“We plan to have nearly all on board within the next month, if not sooner,” said Kenneth J. Zawodny Jr., OPM’s associate director for retirement services.


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