Federal employees planning to retire may soon have the option to complete the requirements using an online system, rather than through the paper format most widely used across the U.S. government.

Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja told reporters on an Aug. 4 call that the agency will pilot an online retirement application system to address some short-term problems with the federal retirement system, namely slow processing times.

Modernization of the federal retirement system has been a central priority for OPM directors for more than a decade, but retiring feds still have to work through a clunky and often slow paper-based system.

Currently, feds are expected to submit paper forms to their employing agency two months before their planned retirement date. The agency then compiles a retirement package for that employee and verifies all essential information, before electronically submitting and physically mailing a copy of that package to OPM, which does its own calculations and verifications before approving the application.

“Long term, we need to put in a pretty robust strategic plan, and there hasn’t been one in retirement services since 2012. That’s just going to take multiple years, and I’m committed to do that.”

OPM has not had a Senate-confirmed director last more than a year since Katherine Archuleta retired in mid-2015. The agency has not had a director remain in place for the entire four-year term of a president since Barack Obama’s first OPM head, John Berry, who left in 2013.

Ahuja said that she talked with former OPM director Linda Springer, who served from 2005 to 2008 and tried to tackle the whole retirement problem in one go.

“She was like, ‘Don’t do it. Be incremental, take your successes and build off of them,’” said Ahuja.

“The long term is that we have to work with multiple agencies to move from a paper-based process to online. And the reason we have these huge backlogs — not to say that OPM doesn’t hold responsibility and the buck stops with us — but it had a lot to do with moving files from one agency to OPM, all paper based, during the pandemic.”

President Joe Biden’s budget proposal and the House’s current draft of the general government appropriations bill for 2022 would grant OPM an extra $42 million to address its outdated IT systems.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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