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OPM nominee pledges to improve pension processing

Jul. 16, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Sean Archuleta MWM 20130716
Katherine Archuleta, nominee to be director of the Office of Personnel Management, is greeted by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., before her July 16 confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (Mike Morones / Staff)

President Obama’s pick to head the Office of Personnel Management pledged Tuesday to bolster the use of information technology to improve processing of retiring employees’ pension applications.

OPM “fell short” in previous efforts to automate retirement services, Katherine Archuleta said at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. If her nomination wins Senate approval, “I would make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure that first check gets there as quickly as possible.”

Archuleta also said she would create a chief technology officer’s job at OPM and ask senior managers to come up with an IT modernization plan within her first 100 days as director.

The hearing was chaired by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who heads the subcommittee on the federal workforce. “Hopefully, you will get a very timely confirmation,” Tester said.

Obama nominated Archuleta in May to replace John Berry, who stepped down as OPM director the preceding month and has since been nominated to be ambassador to Australia.

Archuleta served as national political director for Obama’s successful 2012 re-election campaign; before that, she spent more than two years as the Labor Department’s chief of staff and has also held senior posts at the Transportation and Energy departments. Most recently, she has been consultant to the Hunt Alternatives Fund, a Massachusetts-based foundation. If confirmed, she would be the first Hispanic to head OPM.

OPM has long struggled to quickly and accurately process pensions. Beginning in January 2012, when the claims backlog stood at more than 61,000, OPM hired more staff to process retirement claims and field public inquiries. The agency also increased the use of overtime, and overhauled its processes. The backlog, as of the end of June, stands at 25,500.

But on April 28, OPM halted all retirement services overtime, saying the step was needed to avoid furloughing employees because of sequester-related budget cuts. The agency warned that the overtime cuts would likely mean that pensions would take longer to calculate. From a peak of 15,333 claims processed in February, the numbers have dropped every month since. Nonetheless, the average processing time for new claims during the same period fell from 100 days to 87 days, according to OPM figures.

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