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OPM kicks off IT modernization

Mar. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
Navy Yard hearing MWM 20140211
OPM Director Katherine Archuleta seeks reduced redundancies, more efficiency with IT plan. (Mike Morones)

A new strategy released by the Office of Personnel Management Tuesday details plans for overhauling how the agency buys, manages and administers IT services to federal employees.

Duuring her confirmation process, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta pledged to develop the plan within her first 100 days in office. She was confirmed Oct. 31. 2013.

“This plan is a vision for the future of IT at OPM that will allow us to put in place the kind of systems that will help you and other managers and employees succeed,” Archuleta said Tuesday at the Federal Managers Association training seminar. “It will reduce redundancy, leverage limited resources more efficiently and improve collaboration.”

To better manage its IT resources, OPM is consolidating IT functions under its chief information officer organization. The first phase of that effort will begin in June with the creation of policies that clearly define the authorities and duties of the CIO. OPM will also review its IT workforce and programs to ensure the right talent is focused on the highest risk IT programs.

By September, OPM will create a central technical project management office to oversee all IT projects and compliance with administration initiatives like PortfolioStat, which is designed to help agencies identify overlaps in IT investments and opportunities to share resources.

As the agency responsible for IT systems used to recruit, investigate, hire, and manage federal employees, OPM’s execution of this strategy is critical. In recent years, IT has been been a high-profile source of headaches for the agency.

In 2008, for example, OPM canceled RetireEZ, an ambitious attempt to fully automate retirement processing for federal employees, after the system flunked numerous tests. In 2011, the agency’s rollout of an in-house version of USAJobs.com — which had previously been run by a contractor — was marred by major snafus. At the time, the agency blamed an unprecedented surge in traffic for the problems, which were eventually fixed.

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Current laws and regulations require OPM to make changes to its existing retirement systems, including converting all retirement payments to Electronic Fund Transfers and updating annuity calculators. OPM said it envisions transitioning the retirement program to a paperless systems and noted enhancements to online services, including a status viewer to provide transparency of the claims process for retirees.

“The move to a completely electronic system is the first step in processing claims in a timely manner,” Joseph Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), said in a statement.

“After careers dedicated to public service, federal retirees should not have to wait months, sometimes even years, to receive their full annuities,” Beaudoin said. “With the expected retirement wave beginning to break, modernization is crucial to ensuring new retirees receive their full annuity shortly after their retirement date.”

The strategy also calls for improvements to USAJobs.com, starting this year. They include enhancements to the profile and resume builder capabilities on the website and a pilot to test a resume mining feature. OPM will also “begin facilitating planning and analysis activities in support of the next iteration of USAJOBS,” which will be designed using an agile or incremental approach, according to the plan.

While some of the initiatives in the plan will not require additional funding, implementing new security capabilities and enhancing systems will. OPM will need additional resources to hire and train security professionals to implement a continuous monitoring program.

Meanwhile, OPM’s modest IT budget is expected to decrease slightly in fiscal 2015 to $95 million, down from $96 million this year.

Under the new strategy, OPM will also revamp its business processes and procure case management tools to better track and report on cases, such as retirement applications, on a more granular level. An acquisition plan for meeting OPM’s needs will be completed by December.

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“After careers dedicated to public service, federal retirees should not have to wait months, sometimes even years, to receive their full annuities,” Beaudoin said. “With the expected retirement wave beginning to break, modernization is crucial to ensuring new retirees receive their full annuity shortly after their retirement date, Retirees and survivors should not have to endure long waits to receive answers to simple questions, which is currently the situation.”

Moving to an electronic system is the first step in keeping the claims processing moving along in a timely manner, he added. “Although retirement applications cannot yet be submitted online, and while we recognize that certain steps must be taken before online filing is an option, we feel strongly this should be made a higher priority,” he said.

OPM is also investing in data analytics to ensure data is structured, standard, analyzed and made available to those who need it most. This includes agency leaders, hiring managers, jobseekers and human resource specialists.

The agency envisions making data available through a user-friendly, publicly accessible portal. How this would be implemented is unclear, but OPM provided examples of how this capability could be useful. “For example, such information can inform college-bound students of the degrees and courses they should take to qualify for rewarding Federal positions,” the strategy noted.

OPM will start replacing legacy IT infrastructure later this year. The agency will begin consolidating databases next year and move to a data-centric environment, where data on employees’ competencies and agencies’ current and future needs are readily available.

“We will... be able to serve our customers, all of you, with greater accountability and cost savings,” Archuleta said.

Sean Reilly contributed to this story.

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