Issue Briefs

In its recent annual report, MSPB assessed the status of recent OPM initiatives in hiring, retirement claims processing, benefits and other areas.

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Significant Actions of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

As required by statute, MSPB reviews and reports on the significant actions of OPM including an analysis of whether OPM’s actions are in accord with merit system principles (MSPs, 5 U.S.C. §2301) and free from prohibited personnel practices (PPPs, 5 U.S.C. §2302). OPM’s actions broadly affect the Federal workforce, multiple Federal agencies, or applicants for Federal jobs. The OPM significant actions MSPB reviews relate to or have the potential to directly or indirectly affect one or more of the MSPs or PPPs. Almost all OPM actions have the potential to impact the effectiveness and efficiency of the Federal workforce (MSP 5) and/or fair and equitable treatment in a variety of contexts (MSP 2). Depending on the nature of a particular OPM action, the action has the potential to affect or involve other specific MSPs and/or PPPs. Brief information about the additional MSPs and/or PPPs that may potentially be affected by a particular OPM action is included in the ‘significance’ section following each action. This report includes OPM’s significant actions that involve human capital management policy (including OPM action in a case concerning MSPB’s jurisdiction over appeals in actions taken for reasons related to national security) and delivery of services and benefits.

Human Capital Management Policy

Actions Related to Federal Recruitment and Hiring

This section summarizes selected OPM actions related to Federal recruitment and hiring, focusing on three elements of OPM’s hiring reform initiative:

* Establishment of the Pathways Programs;

* Reducing time to hire; and

* USA Hire, an OPM-developed approach for assessing applicants for commonly-filled professional and administrative occupations.

Issuance of Final Regulations for the Pathways Programs

OPM issued final regulations for the Pathways Programs13 which became effective July 10, 2012. The intent is to streamline the hiring process and provide students and recent graduates—groups that OPM views as crucial to meeting the Federal Government’s workforce needs—opportunities for training and potential permanent Federal employment.

To that end, the President exercised, through OPM, his statutory authority to except positions from the competitive service. The final regulations establish a new component of the excepted service under title 5, United States Code. That component, Schedule D includes positions “…for which the competitive service requirements make impracticable the adequate recruitment of sufficient numbers of students attending qualifying educational institutions or individuals who have recently completed qualifying educational programs.” The final regulation creates three excepted service appointing authorities; an Internship Program, a Recent Graduates Program, and a Presidential Management Fellows Program collectively referred to as the Pathways Programs.

As part of its justification for establishing the Pathways Programs, OPM contended that the groups targeted by the Pathways Programs, recent graduates in particular, are often disadvantaged by competitive examining. OPM’s rationale is that because many agencies use ratings of training and experience to assess job applicants when conducting a competitive examination, students, and recent graduates who typically have minimal or no job-related work experience will receive lower scores than applicants with extensive experience, which may effectively eliminate them from consideration for appointment.

To guide agency implementation and address issues encountered with the Federal Career Intern Program (the predecessor of the Recent Graduates Program), OPM integrated five core principles into the Pathways Programs:

* Limited scope: In particular, the Pathways Programs are to be used “as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the competitive hiring process;”

* Transparency: Agencies must provide OPM with information about available Pathways Programs positions. OPM will then post the job announcement information on USAJOBS, a centralized website frequently consulted by Federal jobseekers;

* Fairness to veterans: Advertisement through USAJOBS will provide members of the public (including veterans) information about Federal employment opportunities. Also, veterans’ preference rules apply to the Pathways Programs, and veterans may apply for opportunities in the Recent Graduates Program within six years of graduation (instead of within two years, which is the usual limit) if they were unable to apply because of military duty;

* Agency investment: Agencies are required to provide meaningful training to the students and recent graduates they select; and

* OPM oversight: Agencies must: (1) enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with OPM prior to using the Pathways Programs. This MOU must be re-executed every two years; (2) designate a Pathways Programs Officer to serve as the point of contact with OPM; and (3) submit an annual report to OPM on their use of the Pathways Programs, to include information on both past appointments and projected use. Also, to prevent excessive use, OPM may establish limits on appointments under the Pathways Programs and on conversions of Pathways Programs participants to permanent Federal employment. The Director of OPM also retains authority to revoke an agency’s use of the Pathways Programs.

Significance

As the final regulations are recent, it is too soon to tell how Federal agencies will implement and use the Pathways Programs, or how OPM will exercise its oversight authorities. We note that the final regulations are little changed, in most important respects, from the proposed regulationsthat OPM issued in August 2011. Consequently, the broad issues and concerns that MSPB highlighted when discussing the proposed Pathways Programs in its 2011 Annual Report—such as the question of whether 5 U.S.C. 3302 authorizes exceptions to competitive examination that are, arguably, person-based rather than position-based—remain relevant. MSPB plans to monitor implementation of the Pathways Programs closely. In addition to MSPs 2 and 5, the Pathways Program relates to hiring based on relevant qualifications to achieve a workforce that is representative of society, and advancement on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, skills (MSP 1).

Reducing Time to Hire

OPM first focused on reducing the time to hire in 2008 as part of its End-to-End Hiring Initiative and has maintained this focus under the Administration’s hiring reform initiative. OPM has found that agencies have varying ability to collect and analyze data, which affects the reliability and integrity of reported results. To provide more consistency across agencies, OPM has worked with a group of agency Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) to develop guidelines for calculating time to hire.

Significance

Although notable progress has been made to reduce the time to hire, it appears that few agencies are consistently meeting the goal of hiring employees in 80 or fewer calendar days. As noted in previous MSPB reports, the length of the hiring process can contribute to Federal agencies losing good candidates who are not willing or able to wait.23 OPM’s guidance for reporting hiring results should lead to more reliable and usable calculations across the Federal Government, helping agencies gauge progress and make improvements to hiring processes. Reducing time to hire relates to MSPs 1, 2, and 5.

Pilot of USA Hire

As part of its hiring reform initiative, OPM created ASSESS (renamed USA Hire) which has been an integrated technology-based approach for evaluating applicants for commonly-filled Governmentwide occupations. USA Hire was intended to directly support two goals of hiring reform: improved quality of hire and reduced time to hire. Features of USA Hire include:

* Online assessments: Either proctored or unproctored online examinations;

* Assessments: A battery of tests that directly evaluate competencies, instead of using indirect measures such as descriptions of training and experience; and

* Portable results: After completing the tests, an applicant may use the results to apply for any position that requires the same test batteries.

When first introduced, OPM made ASSESS available to several pilot agencies without charge. Pilot testing will continue in FY 2013, but on a fee-for-service basis. OPM has indicated that it is evaluating a pricing structure that should be cost-effective and affordable for agencies. OPM is currently developing metrics to evaluate the pilot and plans to use the resulting data to make improvements.

Significance

As of November 2012, USA Hire had been used to fill only a small number of positions (fewer than 80) in a limited range of occupations (primarily financial and information technology occupations). Consequently, it is too soon to gauge the effects or success of this initiative. However, USA Hire appears to have potential to:

* Improve quality of hire: USA Hire’s assessment battery includes test types—such as cognitive ability, job knowledge, situational judgment, and personality/biodata—that can, individually or in combination, better predict job performance than can point-method ratings of training and experience. Individual agencies may lack the expertise and time to independently develop or validate such tests. Thus USA Hire could help agencies more effectively assess and select applicants on the basis of relative ability;

* Reduce time to hire: Using technology to administer and score assessments can produce a list of qualified applicants more quickly than manual alternatives, particularly when there are large numbers of applicants;

* Provide economies of scale: If acceptance and use increase, USA Hire may be less costly for agencies than individually purchasing or developing and administering assessments; and

* Reduce the scope and use of exceptions to competitive examining: Direct assessment of competencies could eliminate or reduce the reported tendency of competitive examinations to disadvantage applicants with minimal or no job-related work experience.

The Pilot of USA Hire relates to MSPs 1, 2, and 5.

Introduction of Standardized Performance Appraisal System for the Senior Executive Service

In January 2012, OPM (in coordination with OMB) announced a new standardized Governmentwide performance appraisal system for members of the Senior Executive Service (SES).38 This new system, which is to replace the multitude of systems currently employed by Federal agencies, is intended to provide “a more consistent and uniform framework to communicate expectations and evaluate the performance of SES members.” That consistency will support broader improvements in the SES, such as facilitating movement of executives across agencies, allowing agencies to share best practices, and enabling OPM to streamline its certification system for SES members.

The interagency workgroup chartered by the President’s Management Council (PMC) to coordinate development of this new system has standardized:

* The number of performance levels (five);

* Designations of the summary performance rating levels—one is the lowest rating level (unsatisfactory) through five, which is the highest rating level (outstanding);

* Performance standards and definitions;

* The method for deriving the summary rating; and

* The procedure for addressing poor performance.

SES performance appraisals are currently based on the Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs)—leading people, leading change, results driven, business acumen, and building coalitions. The new system retains the ECQs as performance measures, but shifts the focus from possession of competencies and technical expertise to achieving results through leadership. During FY 2012, approximately 10 agencies adopted the new SES performance management system.An additional 25-30 agencies are expected to implement the system in FY 2013, with remaining implementing on October 1, 2013.

Significance

Development of the new system involved identifying leading practices from the Federal and private sectors and incorporating them into the SES performance management system design. While the design may be sound, the real test for successful performance management systems lies in implementation and acceptance by individuals under the system (e.g., the perception of fairness).

The challenges in standardizing performance evaluations across agencies for the SES—indeed, for any segment of the Federal workforce—should not be underestimated. However, the benefits of success could be substantial because it would enable agencies—beginning with top-level leadership—to learn from experience, both as raters and ratees. Establishing a standardized, sound, and credible performance appraisal system for the SES could also lay the groundwork for broader reforms of employee performance management and, eventually, pay and recognition. In addition to MSPs 2, 5 and 6, OPM’s introduction of a standardized performance appraisal system for the SES relates to equal pay for work of equal value with consideration of national and local rates paid by private employers, and ensuring appropriate incentives and recognition for excellent performance (MSP 3).

Application of the Performance Appraisal Assessment Tool (PAAT)

As part of its responsibility for strategic management of human capital, OPM continues to use the Performance Appraisal Assessment Tool (PAAT) to help agencies design and implement results-oriented performance appraisal systems. The PAAT describes 10 characteristics of a successful system, which include:

* Aligning employee performance plans with agency goals;

* Involving employees in the design of the system and the development of their performance plans;

* Holding employees accountable for achieving results—not only for behaviors or competencies; and

* Providing consequences for performance by recognizing and rewarding outstanding performance and addressing poor performance.

PAAT standards include objective (e.g., number of employees who receive ratings at each of the performance rating levels) and subjective (e.g., perceptions of various aspects of the appraisal system implementation) measures that provide multiple sources of feedback and indicators on where adjustment should be made to improve the appraisal system.

Significance

OPM correctly recognizes that developing an effective performance appraisal system requires regular review and continuing adjustment and refinement. This focus illustrates the importance of long-term commitment to improving performance appraisal systems. Since Fiscal Year 2007, the percentage of employees in Chief Human Capital Office (CHCO) agencies covered by appraisal systems that received scores between 70-84 points on the PAAT46 has increased. Results for Fiscal Year 2012 have not been published.

For reasons discussed in the MSPB’s Annual Report for FY 2011—employee engagement, efficient uses of salary and award monies, and basis for retention, pay, and recognition— it is critical that agencies continue to improve performance management and that OPM continues to support them in their effort. Application of the PAAT relates to MSPs 3, 5, and 6.

Goals Engagement Accountability Results (GEAR) Pilot

In 2009, the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations (LMR Council) was created to “promote satisfactory labor relations and improve the productivity and effectiveness of the Federal Government.” Council members consist of the Director of OPM and the Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as co-chairs, senior government officials, and representatives from Federal labor unions and management organizations.

In order to enhance its productivity, the LMR Council formed a workgroup comprised of representatives from a broad spectrum of functions related to employee or organization performance. The workgroup determined that issues of organizational performance and individual employee performance were so closely intertwined that both needed to be addressed simultaneously. In contrast to previous efforts, the workgroup did not recommend structural changes to existing performance management systems. Instead, it concentrated on practices and behaviors: communication between employees and supervisors; building trust to facilitate discussions of performance expectations in the context of strategic goals; providing timely and constructive feedback for short-term and long-term improvement; and discussion of employee development in conjunction with organizational needs. The workgroup also sought ways to improve the assessment, selection, training, and development of supervisors. The resulting recommendations, presented under the acronym GEAR (Goals, Engagement, Accountability, Results), were:

* Articulate a high performance culture;

* Align employee performance management with organizational performance management;

* Implement accountability at all levels;

* Create a culture of engagement; and

* Improve the assessment, selection, development and training of supervisors.

Significance

The focus and objectives of GEAR are consistent with MSPB’s research on managing for engagement. MSPB has found the necessary behaviors are practiced less often than is desirable, which may explain some stakeholder skepticism51 about GEAR’s prospects for success. However, such skepticism reinforces the need for improvement and the fact that behavioral and cultural change does not occur quickly and usually requires substantial and sustained attention. We further note that the LMR Council took a collaborative approach to examining the issues, developing recommendations, and identifying pilot agencies. That could yield greater agency and employee acceptance—and, ultimately, more positive and lasting change—than previous approaches, which have often been top-down and directive. The GEAR Pilot relates to MSPs 3, 5, and 6.

Advancing Federal Agency Use of Telework

The Telework Enhancement Act of 201052 (the Act) set forth specific requirements for agencies (e.g., develop a policy, notify employees of telework eligibility, incorporate telework into continuity of operations plans, and designate a Telework Managing Officer). In addition to these requirements, the Act encourages agencies to establish other telework program goals—such as to facilitate recruitment and retention, reduce real estate cost, and reduce air pollution and energy consumption—and to measure progress toward achieving those goals.

The Act charged OPM with supporting and monitoring agency implementation of the Act’s requirements and objectives. In that capacity, OPM published the report 2012 Status of Telework in the Federal Government in June 2012. This report covers agency progress toward satisfying requirements of the Act; identification of benefits and barriers to telework; and examples of practices to increase benefits derived from telework. OPM reported that agencies have made substantial progress (for example, at the time information was collected for the report, 75 out of 87 agencies had incorporated telework in their continuity of operations plans), but acknowledged that “the final combined telework participation estimates are unlikely to be reliable” because not all agencies have staff trained to perform the function and agencies use different methods to collect data.Accordingly, OPM has worked with agencies to develop Governmentwide standards for automated data collection and pilot-tested a revised data collection process in the summer of 2012.

Significance

OPM continues to actively assist Federal agencies in meeting the Act’s requirements and promoting the use of telework to maximize its benefits. Examples of the guidance and tools provided by OPM are: a guide to telework; illustrations of how some agencies have set telework goals and identified metrics for measuring progress and practices for capturing necessary data; interactive web-based training for employees and managers; and guidance that incorporates telework into dismissal and closure procedures for the Federal Government in the Washington, D.C. area.

OPM leadership could aid and accelerate the integration of telework into routine agency operations. Fuller integration of telework into agencies’ business strategies—beyond contingency and emergency planning—is essential if the Federal Government is to realize the full potential of telework to benefit agencies and employees and contribute to efficient and effective use of the Federal workforce. Advancing Federal agency use of telework relates to MSPs 1, 2, and 5.

Expansion of HR University

In 2010, the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council and OPM established HR University (HRU), a Federal Governmentwide training resource to assist Federal HR professionals. The goals of HR University are to:

* Address competency and skill gaps within the Federal HR community, to enable HR professionals to function as “strategic business partners” rather than processors of transactions;

* Achieve savings through shared resources and economies of scale; and

* Identify and provide best-quality HR training across the Federal Government.

Since its inception, HRU has registered 15,000 users, posted over 99 courses, and been used by over 28 Government agencies.64 OPM continues to expand course offerings, which now include some college-level courses.65 Many courses are free or low cost, and OPM estimates that HRU has achieved approximately $18.6 million in cost savings.

Significance

For several years, Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) and the broader HR community have expressed concern that Federal HR professionals lack the competencies needed to succeed in a changed environment. Because HR professionals implement and influence programs including recruitment and placement, employee benefits, classification, compensation, performance management, employee relations, and labor relations, their advice and actions can have far-reaching consequences for both agencies and employees. HRU can help agencies develop HR professionals who have the skills needed to design and implement HR policies and practices that are consistent with law and merit system principles, supporting a Federal Government that works efficiently and effectively to serve the public interest. The expansion of HR University relates to MSPs 5 and 7.

Implementation of Phased Retirement

Since 2010, the number of Federal employee retirements has been on the rise. To facilitate the transfer of technical and institutional knowledge while allowing employees to make a less abrupt transition into retirement, Congress approved legislation to provide Federal employees an option for phased retirement, which was signed into law on July 6, 2012. As envisioned, employees at the end of their careers would be allowed to work part-time, receiving a reduced salary and a partial retirement annuity. In exchange, they would spend a portion of their time mentoring less-experienced employees and aiding succession planning. While it is not anticipated that large numbers of employees would be interested in this arrangement, agencies retain the right to determine which employees can participate. OPM is currently drafting implementing regulations, which will be submitted to OMB for review prior to issuance for public comment.

Significance

Phased retirement, once implemented, could be a useful tool to retain valuable, highly-experienced employees for a limited time and to help less-experienced employees prepare for new roles and responsibilities. We caution that phased retirement is not a substitute for workforce planning and succession management, areas in which the Federal Government’s planning and execution have often been lacking. However, phased retirement, if properly used, should contribute to efficient and effective use of the Federal workforce. For example, phased retirement could reduce disruption of mission-critical functions that can result from employee retirements, especially when such retirements coincide with—or are driven by—organizational downsizing and restructuring. The implementation of phased retirement relates to MSPs 3 and 5.

Guidance on Diversity and Inclusion

In August 2011, President Obama issued an Executive Order on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the Federal Government that directed OPM to develop, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the President’s Management Council (PMC), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a Governmentwide strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. That strategic plan, which directed Federal agencies to develop agency-specific D&I strategic plans, was issued in November 2011, accompanied by guidance on those agency-specific plans. In March 2012, 55 agencies submitted their D&I Strategic Plans to OPM.

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OPM has identified, through its research, four elements of successful D&I plans: (1) diversity councils, (2) mentoring, (3) work/life balance, and (4) diversity in senior leadership. OPM review of those plans reveals that inclusion of these elements varies. For example, most agency plans included work/life programs, but relatively few addressed how to ensure diversity within the agency’s senior ranks. This is the first year that agencies have been required to develop D&I plans, and OPM anticipates that future plans will be better aligned with what it believes to be best practices.

Significance

Striving for diversity and inclusion is fully consistent with the MSPs, and with the vision of a Federal Government that is representative, focused on the public interest, and efficient and effective. The concept of diversity in the plan and guidance extends beyond traditional dimensions (e.g., race and national origin, sex, ethnicity, age, religion, and disability), to encompass differences such as socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and education. This broader conception more fully reflects the ways that citizens and employees can differ, and acknowledges that a workforce that is truly “representative of all segments of society” is diverse in ways beyond those explicitly enumerated in civil rights and other statutes.

An emphasis on inclusion is also consistent with, and supportive of, MSPs. Efficient and effective use of the workforce—which implies taking full advantage of the perspectives and experiences that employees can bring to bear on organizational goals and challenges—requires more than a workforce that resembles American society. It demands workplaces in which employees believe that they are respected and are able to make full use of their talents and insights. OPM’s guidance provides a framework for agencies to identify barriers to creating such workplaces, and to take specific actions to overcome those barriers. OPM’s guidance on diversity and inclusion relates to MSPs 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 and PPP 10.

Extension of Certain Benefits to Same-Sex Partners

On July 20, 2012, OPM issued final regulations to extend some Federal benefits to same-sex partners of Federal employees. Under the regulation, same-sex partners are:

* Presumed to have an insurable interest for a survivor annuity;

* Eligible for noncompetitive appointment based on overseas employment; and

* Eligible for child care subsidies offered to lower-income civilian employees.

OPM also issued a proposed rule to amend the Federal Employees Health Benefits Programs to allow the children of a Federal employee and same-sex partner to receive health benefits, including dental and vision insurance.

Significance

Expanding the availability of benefits to same-sex partners could help the Federal Government maintain a contemporary and competitive benefits package, and support the Federal Government’s need to have a qualified and diverse workforce and inclusive workplaces. At the signing of an earlier memorandum granting some benefits to same-sex partners, President Obama stated that “Those companies recognize that offering (same-sex) partner benefits helps them compete for and retain the brightest and most talented employees. The Federal government is at a disadvantage on that score right now, and change is long overdue.” However, there are limits to what can be achieved through executive or administrative action; legislation will be necessary before the Federal Government can offer full benefits. The extension of certain benefits to same-sex partners involves MSPs 1, 2, and 5, and PPP 1.

Delivery of Services and Benefits

Establishment of New Strategic Goal: Improve Access to Health Insurance

In FY 2012, OPM added the strategic goal of “Improve access to health insurance” to the four strategic goals it established in 2010. This goal encompasses responsibilities assigned to OPM under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which include:

* Implementation and oversight of at least two multi-state health plan options to be offered through affordable insurance exchanges beginning in 2014. The multi-state plans will be one of the health insurance options available to small businesses and uninsured individuals;

* Extending eligibility of insurance coverage through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and the Federal Employee Group Life Insurance Program to tribes and tribal organizations.

Significance

This new strategic goal—in particular, implementing multi-state health plans—may indirectly affect OPM’s strategic goals related to Federal human capital management and related significant actions, which in turn could potentially affect some or all of the MSPs or PPPs.

Introduction of USAJOBS 3.0

USAJOBS (www.USAJOBS.gov) is the Federal Government’s main portal for information about Federal employment opportunities. In conjunction with its hiring reform initiative, OPM worked with agencies to identify information needs, then used in-house staff to design and build USAJOBS 3.0. When USAJOBS 3.0 was implemented in October 2011, OPM experienced significant technical problems, and concerns about system access and usability were widespread and highly publicized. According to the ForeSee E-Government Satisfaction Index—based on survey data from approximately 300,000 users of 190 Federal websites—the satisfaction score dropped sharply after the 3.0 version was released. The range of satisfaction scores is from 1 to 100; a score of 80 or higher is considered superior because it can only be achieved if the organization meets or exceeds user expectations. Prior to implementation of USAJOB 3.0, the satisfaction scores for the first three quarters of 2011 varied between 74 and 75. After the launch of USAJOBS 3.0, the satisfaction score fell to 56. Since then, satisfaction has risen steadily, although it has yet to reach the level attained prior to the launch of version 3.0. As of November 2012, the most recent available satisfaction score was 72.

Significance

USAJOBS is a widely-used website that receives over 3 million visits per week. While the content of the job announcement is under agency control, it is critical that OPM designs and maintains a site that users find navigable and functional. Satisfaction scores indicate that OPM has addressed the problems that arose at introduction. However, the importance of USAJOBS extends beyond functionality. The impression that USAJOBS makes can affect users’ perceptions of the Federal Government, willingness to complete the job search and application process, and comments and recommendations made to others. For USAJOBS 3.0 to be a complete success, user satisfaction should reach or exceed the levels previously attained. To that end, OPM will need to focus continued attention on the user experience, as well as various elements of the hiring reform initiative, such as job announcements and application processes and requirements, for which Federal agencies (rather than OPM) have primary responsibility. In addition to MSPs 2 and 5, USAJOBS 3.0 primarily involves MSP 1.

Reducing the Number of Pending Retirement Claims

For FY 2010, OPM reported a substantial increase in both retirement claims processing time and in the number of pending claims, reflecting both external factors (such as an increase in retirement claims driven by an aging workforce and agency restructuring) and internal factors (such as staff losses and the discontinuation of an unsuccessful modernization initiative). To rectify this situation, OPM instituted an approach with four elements (“pillars”):

* People: OPM hired staff in two functions: claims processing, performed by Legal Administrative Specialists (LASs); and responding to customer inquiries, performed by Customer Service Specialists (CSSs);

* Productivity and process improvement: OPM conducted a study of claims processing and made changes based on its analysis. One such change was shifting the task of gathering data needed for claims processing to CSSs, freeing LASs to perform more technical work;

* Partnering with agencies: OPM trained agency benefits officers on common errors and how to avoid them, and provides monthly feedback on the completeness and deficiencies of the claims submitted for processing; and

* Progressive information technology improvements: OPM is making incremental changes to make greater use of technology and automation.

OPM has reduced the retirement claims backlog from 61,108 cases in January 2012 to 26,402 cases in December 2012.

Significance

OPM anticipates a continued increase in retirement claim submissions for issues related to the two-year pay freeze, an increase in retirement eligible Federal employees, proposed changes to the retirement system, and agency use of Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP) for workforce restructuring. As we noted in our Annual Report for FY 2011, OPM’s ability to deliver timely and accurate benefits does not only affect retirees. As stated, it “indirectly affects public trust in government, agencies’ ability to recruit employees and restructure their workforces, and the credibility and effectiveness of OPM leadership in other areas.” It is, therefore, important that OPM continue to make progress toward reducing the backlog and meeting its July 2013 goal of processing 90% of the retirement claims received within 60 days. Reducing the number of pending retirement claims relates to MSPs 1, 3, and 5.