Both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) agree that OPM is facing delays in handling retirement applications and needs to replace the paper-based process, but GAO urged OPM to come up with a more concrete IT modernization plan for the program in a report released Friday, June 14.

At the heart of the delays in processing retirement applications is a paper-based process that consumes lots of time and effort, leading to staffing shortages during peak months and incomplete applications. While efforts have been made in recent years to fix the issue, the process “still require[s] manual intervention, including assembling paper documents into folders, ensuring documents are in proper order, and addressing missing or incomplete information,” GAO stated.

In its strategic vision for the program, released in 2013, OPM envisioned a new paperless system that would include an electronic retirement record, a retirement data repository, a data bridge between the retirement data repository and the benefits calculator, an online retirement application form, and a case management system.

However, many of these systems are only partially developed, and GAO chastised OPM for not having a solid timeline or estimated cost in place.

“Without a plan that is consistent with IT project management principles, OPM is less able to articulate a path forward in measurable terms and assess performance towards achieving its objectives,” the report notes.

OPM officials noted that much of the uncertainty comes from the need for an improved enterprise architecture, which will require additional funds outside the retirement application effort and support from the agency CIO. OPM’s aging IT has been a major focus for the agency in recent weeks, as Acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert cited legacy IT as a major reason for the agency’s proposed merger with the General Services Administration (GSA).

However, GAO did not move from its recommendation.

“These components are important. However, they do not preclude OPM from establishing a basic project management plan that includes objectives, estimated cost ranges, and proposed time frames for its initial project phases,” the report states.

GAO also stuck to its recommendation in the face of OPM’s proposed merger with GSA.

“Continuing to develop plans to modernize retirement IT systems seems prudent, given that the details of the reorganization are still unknown and that the move to the General Services Administration may not occur in the near term, or at all,” GAO notes.

GAO recommended that OPM implement an IT modernization plan with a solid timeframe and cost targets. OPM partially concurred, citing the need for funding and coordination with agency leadership. OPM also acknowledged having “high-level funding estimates” for each aspect of its modernization plan, but did not provide them to GAO.

The auditing agency remained unmoved in its recommendation.

“We agree these are important elements, which further underscore our recommendation,” GAO responded, sticking with its recommendation.

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MeriTalk Staff