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Senate hearing to investigate OPM’s pension delays

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John Berry (file photo/Getty Images)

The Senate is calling Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry to Capitol Hill next week to explain how he plans to fix OPM’s longstanding delayed pension problem. Berry will appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on the federal workforce on Feb. 1.

The hearing comes two weeks after Berry sent lawmakers an in-depth plan outlining his strategy. New federal retirees currently wait several months to get their full pension, and in the meantime, have to get by on interim payments that can be a quarter to a third less than what they are owed. OPM has spent two decades and more than $100 million trying to solve the problem, all for naught — and with the pace of retirements and buyouts speeding up, it’s only growing worse.

Subcommittee chairman Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is likely to ask Berry more questions about his information technology strategy, how he plans to handle the accelerated pace of retirements, and how he’s managing staff and other resources to deal with the problem.

The hearing is also expected to look into improper payments OPM has made to retirees who were actually dead. In one particularly egregious case, OPM paid more than $515,000 to a federal retiree’s son for 37 years after the retiree died.

Besides Berry, OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland, Government Accountability Office human capital expert Valerie Melvin, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association National President Joseph Beaudoin, and former OPM senior adviser George Nesterczuk will also testify.



  1. Deborah Hamby Says:
    January 24th, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Would it be possible for OPM to at least give us a timeline for each individual retiree when we can expect pending pensions will be finalized. I just retired on August 31, 2011.

  2. FedHRXpert Says:
    January 25th, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Poor workforce planning coupled with new mission priorities have relegated one-time leading core mission programs which are labor-intensive, boring and require subject-matter expertise such as staffing, classification, retirement, etc. behind new, emerging mission programs. Time to re-organize the OPM and allow more creative, innovative and subject-matter experts (SMEs) to do what OPM’s supposedly best and brightest have failed at – bringing these programs into the 21st Century. Rank and file at OPM pretty much tell Berry what can be done and then fail to accomplish indicating OPM’s workforce is not what they were once SMEs in their programs of work. OMB considered the performance management experts in the federal sector don’t have a clue either on why or how to improve OPM’s performance other than throwing good money after bad. Hiring more staff is not the answer. Hiring the right personnel is the answer. Short term options exist to catchup on the retirement backlog. Instead, OPM has developing and carrying out long-term plans as in hiring more trainees and then training them so they will be able to complete retirement cases independently in about 2 or 3 yrs! Problem is, many of these trainees will transfer way before then! OPM should be the model employer. Instead, they are reflecting how disconnected and incapacitated they are due to poor or simple lack of workforce planning…. Okay, okay – give me the contract and I WILL RESOLVE the backlog using existing federal sources and resources AND SIMULATANEOUSLY build an automated federal retirement program but ONLY if a separate agency apart from the OPM is established to takeover the program once I get it built in 6 mos!

  3. Delfan1961 Says:
    January 25th, 2012 at 10:31 am

    With all due respect, you’re dead wrong on almost everything you’ve said. The Federal retirement system has successfully resisted “modernization”, chiefly, because BOTH Federal retirement systems are Byzantine in their complexity…as created by generations of morons in Congress. The same Congress continues to tinker with both systems, periodically, ensuring that both systems remain hopelessly complex and resistant to a “one size fits all” computation calculator. Remember, these are retirement LAWS, not “policies”. They can’t simply be ignored, if difficult or inconvenient.
    OPM’s aging staff of retirement specialists (several of whom have already retired, recently) stands at only about 10%-20% of what would be needed to process claims in a timely manner, due to decades of poor management, at lower levels. Hiring large numbers of qualified personnel will do little to help the current backlog, but will set the agency on the right track, for the future, as the agency has never been remotely close to full staffing, in the retirement area.
    Another problem lies in poorly-trained and understaffed, overworked “HR” staffs at Federal agencies. Even when they submit retirement packages to OPM, those packages are routinely incomplete…often lacking vital pieces of information necessary to the correct computation of benefits. This is the result of decades of downsizing in the Federal government, without regard to making intelligent choices in the cuts. As result, the Federal government tends to be top-heavy in “Chiefs”, with not enough foot soldiers to do the grunt work.

  4. Robert Benson Says:
    January 25th, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    FedHRXpert, I applaud you!

    Let me help. I have already set up a successful website – fedbens.us – with 9 valuable programs, including the fiendishly intricate FERS annuity supplement. We can use these to great effect in your initiative.

    Please contact me through my website.

    Robert F. Benson

  5. KK Myers Says:
    January 25th, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Easier said than done. A lot easier. Talk is cheap.

    We are not talking about processing military retirements (non-disability) for personnel with 30 years of active duty experience. You can do those in 1/10 of a millisecond.

    Who are the “right personnel”? You think the best & the brightest are clamoring to come to Wash DC or Boyers, Pennsylvania to be OPM Benefit Specialists?

  6. Robert Benson Says:
    January 25th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Sorry, but the retirement laws are not Byzantine, not at all. To see proof, check out menu choice #1, at my website: fedbens.us This one application will quickly and accurately calculate annuities for about 94-96% of retirements.

    Above application is free. It is not really that big a deal. A benefits expert could learn programming and then replicate my software in, say, one month. Ditto for a programmer who learned the retirement laws.

    OPM’s problem is they are stuck in the Eisenhower era, and they do not want to move. Really.

  7. Delfan1961 Says:
    January 26th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Interestingly, the anti-virus programs for both my home and work PC’s (different anti-virus programs) have identified fedbens.us as a “suspicious” or “potentially dangerous” site, so I chose not to investigate the site, for fear of harming either or both units.
    Mr. Benson’s rebuttal that the Federal retirement system is NOT Byzantine is sheer nonsense, as anyone with an in-depth knowledge of either the CSRS or FERS (or both) systems would know.
    Within the last few years, a private contractor (Hewitt Corp) that specializes in running private industry retirement systems was given the opportunity in taking over the Federal retirement systems, at a proposed cost of $300 million, over a ten-year period….far more than it would cost to continue to do the work in-house. The deal hinged on Hewitt’s ability to create a calculating engine that would successfully compute the entire range of Federal retirements (the whole deal was a gigantic “conflict-of-interest” debacle, as the Hewitt “connection” was OPM’s former #2 man, in retirement).
    The experiment was a colossal failure…Hewitt’s system was unable to replicate even OPM’s easier computations with any consistency, and the contractor was given the boot. OPM still gave up about $30 million, in the process, to Hewitt for…literally nothing of value.
    The fact that Congress periodically “tweaks”, “modifies” or “corrects” both sets of laws only serves to make a bad situation worse.
    The “cost of doing business” for ANY type of business is having both the manpower and technology necessary to get the job done correctly, in a timely manner and without overburdening the workforce. If you can’t afford adequate manpower and technology, you have no business being in business to begin with.
    One of OPM’s problems is that they habitually have what amounts to a skeleton crew workforce that is continually overwhelmed with work, in addition to the problem of inadequate technology. For the most part, the rank-and-file workers are performing, heroically, with absolutely no support from their own management, who, all too often, have no understanding of the work themselves.

  8. Oldcrow12 Says:
    January 28th, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Delfan1961 one is right on the money. The calculations are incredibly complex, the workforce is chronically short-staffed and under-funded. The best solutions will come from the Feds who actually understand the process best.

  9. FEDUP Says:
    May 25th, 2012 at 9:25 am

    started interim payments over two years ago still no finalization. When I call I’m sent on a wild goose chase where if you manage to get somebody to actually pick up the phone your given false info or another false lead. Have never experienced this level of negligence in my life. Its funny that in all my years of service I was scrutinized daily; how many steps I take in a minute, denied bathroom breaks, countless other things people take for granted were considered time wasting practices. My suggestion is to send postal supervisors into Retirement Dept. and give them a taste of what the applicants they have so poorly served have dealt with for 30 years +. On a side note in my years Ive noticed a high rate of my brothers and sisters kick the bucket soon after they retire. To think after all their service they had to scrape by in their short time as retired, its a crime! This has to get fixed there is no excuse.