Fedweek

OPM appears to have met goal of processing retirement applications on average within 60 days, but backlog grew by nearly 5 percent to more than 17,000 over fiscal 2018 while phone wait times increased

OPM is facing a variety of management issues ranging from the need to strengthen the security of personnel data on federal employees to improving the processing of retirement applications and preventing improper payments in the retirement and FEHB programs, an IG report has said.

Information security was the only one of the top management challenges listed in the annual report that auditors considered a “material weakness,” but all of those issues “demand significant attention, effort, and skill from OPM in order to be successfully addressed.”

The report said that despite responses to what it called the “devastating” database breaches revealed in 2015, OPM’s control over information security has “regressed” and that OPM “is not making substantial progress” in addressing concerns raised in prior audits. The GAO recently expressed similar concerns.

OPM “appears to have met” its goal of processing retirement applications on average within 60 days of receiving them, but the backlog grew by nearly 5 percent to more than 17,000 over fiscal 2018 and the average wait on phone calls increased from about 10 to 12 minutes, well above the goal of five minutes. The IG said that while the rate of improper payments is low by government-wide benefit program standards at 0.4 percent, that still comes to $314 million a year, of which three-fourths are overpayments, the remainder underpayments.

In the FEHB, it added, the improper payment rate of about the same scale represents about $28 million a year. However, OPM estimates that as many as 10 percent of family members covered on FEHB plans actually are ineligible, with some $2 billion in claims at stake. While OPM has proposed to allow carriers to drop ineligible persons prospectively when they are discovered, that would not apply retroactively, it added.

Other challenges it cited include helping other agencies get and keep employees with the needed skills; limiting premium increases in the FEHB program in the face of higher costs especially for prescription drugs and addiction treatment; working down the backlog of background checks; and transitioning responsibility to perform checks on DoD employees to the Pentagon.