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United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

Testimony before the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal 
Service, and Labor Policy, Committee on Oversight and Government 
Reform, House of Representatives: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 9:30 a.m. EST: 
November 15, 2011: 

OPM Retirement Modernization: 

Longstanding Information Technology Management Weaknesses Need to Be 
Addressed: 

Statement of Valerie C. Melvin, Director:
Information Management and Technology Resources Issues: 

GAO-12-226T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-12-226T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy, Committee on 
Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives
View GAO-12-226T. For more information, contact Valerie C.Melvin at 
(202) 512-6304 or melvinv@gao.gov. 
Why GAO Did This Study: 

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the central human 
resources agency for the federal government and, as such, is tasked 
with ensuring the government has an effective civilian workforce. As 
part of its mission, OPM defines recruiting and hiring processes and 
procedures; provides federal employees with various benefits, such as 
health benefits; and administers the retirement program for federal 
employees. The use of information technology (IT) is crucial in 
helping OPM to carry out its responsibilities, and in fiscal year 2011 
the agency invested $79 million in IT systems and services. For over 2 
decades, OPM has been attempting to modernize its federal employee 
retirement process by automating paper-based processes and replacing 
antiquated information systems. However, these efforts have been 
unsuccessful, and OPM canceled its most recent retirement 
modernization effort in February 2011. 

GAO was asked to provide a statement summarizing its work on 
challenges OPM has faced in managing its efforts to modernize federal 
employee retirement processing. To do this, GAO relied on previously 
published work as well as a limited review of more recent 
documentation on OPM’s retirement modernization activities. 

What GAO Found: 

In a series of reviews, GAO found that OPM’s efforts to modernize its 
retirement system have been hindered by weaknesses in several 
important management disciplines that are essential to successful IT 
modernization efforts. For example, in 2005, GAO made recommendations 
to address weaknesses in the following areas: 

* Project management. While OPM had defined major retirement 
modernization components, it had not identified the dependencies among 
them, increasing the risk that delays in one activity could hinder 
progress in others. 

* Risk management. OPM did not have a process for identifying and 
tracking project risks and mitigation strategies on a regular basis. 
This meant that OPM lacked a mechanism to address potential problems 
that could adversely impact the retirement modernization effort’s 
cost, schedule, and quality. 

* Organizational change management. OPM had not developed a detailed 
plan to help users transition to different job responsibilities in 
response to the deployment of the new system, which could lead to 
confusion about roles and responsibilities, hindering effective system 
implementation.
In 2008, as OPM was on the verge of deploying its automated retirement 
processing system, GAO reported deficiencies and made recommendations 
to improve key management capabilities in additional areas: 

* Testing. Test results 1 month prior to the deployment of a major 
system component showed that it had not performed as intended. The 
defects, along with a compressed testing schedule, increased the risk 
that the deployed system would not work as intended. 

* Cost estimating. The cost estimate OPM had developed was not 
supported by documentation necessary to its reliability. This meant 
that OPM did not have a sound basis for formulating budgets or 
developing a cost baseline for the program. 

* Earned value management, which is a tool for measuring program 
progress. The baseline against which OPM was measuring program 
progress did not reflect the full scope of the project, meaning that 
variances from planned performance would not be identified.
In 2009, GAO reported that OPM continued to face challenges in cost 
estimating, earned value management, and testing and made 
recommendations to address these deficiencies as well as additional 
weaknesses in planning and overseeing the retirement modernization 
effort. Although OPM agreed with GAO’s recommendations and had begun 
to address them, the agency terminated the retirement modernization 
effort in February 2011. The agency has since stated that it does not 
plan to undertake another large-scale retirement modernization, but 
instead plans targeted steps to improve retirement processing, such as 
hiring new staff and working to improve data quality. Nonetheless, the 
development and institutionalization of the capabilities GAO 
recommended to address these weaknesses remains key to the success of 
any future IT initiatives that OPM undertakes. 

What GAO Recommends: 

GAO is not making new recommendations at this time. As noted, GAO has 
previously made numerous recommendations to address the challenges OPM 
has faced in carrying out its retirement modernization efforts. 

View [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-226T]. For more 
information, contact Valerie C.Melvin at (202) 512-6304 or 
melvinv@gao.gov. 
[End of section] 

Chairman Ross, Ranking Member Lynch, and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to participate in today's hearing on the Office of 
Personnel Management's (OPM) efforts to modernize the federal 
government's hiring and retirement systems. As you are aware, these 
systems are crucial to helping OPM achieve its mission of recruiting, 
retaining, and providing services to the federal workforce, with the 
agency reportedly investing $79 million for its IT systems and 
services in fiscal year 2011. 

OPM has, however, experienced challenges in managing its modernization 
initiatives. Reports that we issued in 2005, 2008, and 2009 on the 
agency's efforts toward planning and implementing a modernized 
retirement system highlighted its long history of undertaking 
retirement modernization projects that have not yielded the intended 
outcomes. At your request, my testimony today summarizes the findings 
from reports that we have issued on challenges the agency has faced in 
managing its efforts to modernize federal employee retirement 
processing.[Footnote 1] 

The information in my testimony is based primarily on our previous 
work at OPM. We also obtained and conducted a limited review of more 
recent documentation pertaining to the agency's current retirement 
system modernization activities. We conducted our work in support of 
this testimony during November 2011 at OPM headquarters in Washington, 
D.C. All work on which this testimony is based was conducted in 
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 

Background: 

As the central human resources agency for the federal government, OPM 
is tasked with ensuring that the government has an effective civilian 
workforce. To carry out this mission, OPM delivers human resources 
products and services including policies and procedures for recruiting 
and hiring, provides health and training benefit programs, and 
administers the retirement program for federal employees. According to 
the agency, approximately 2.7 million active federal employees and 
nearly 2.5 million retired federal employees rely on its services. 
[Footnote 2] The agency's March 2008 analysis of federal employment 
retirement data estimates that nearly 1 million active federal 
employees will be eligible to retire and almost 600,000 will most 
likely retire by 2016.[Footnote 3] 

According to OPM, the retirement program serves current and former 
federal employees by providing (1) tools and options for retirement 
planning and (2) retirement compensation. Two defined-benefit 
retirement plans that provide retirement, disability, and survivor 
benefits to federal employees are administered by the agency. The 
first plan, the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), provides 
retirement benefits for most federal employees hired before 1984. The 
second plan, the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), covers 
most employees hired in or after 1984 and provides benefits that 
include Social Security and a defined contribution system.[Footnote 4] 

OPM and employing agencies' human resources and payroll offices are 
responsible for processing federal employees' retirement applications. 
The process begins when an employee submits a paper retirement 
application to his or her employer's human resources office and is 
completed when the individual begins receiving regular monthly benefit 
payments as calculated by OPM. 

Processing retirement claims includes functions such as determining 
retirement eligibility, inputting data into benefit calculators, and 
providing customer service. To do so, the agency uses over 500 
different procedures, laws, and regulations, which are documented on 
its internal website. For example, the site contains memorandums that 
outline new procedures for handling special retirement applications, 
such as those for disability or court orders. In addition, OPM's 
retirement processing involves the use of over 80 information systems 
that have approximately 400 interfaces with other internal and 
external systems. 

OPM has stated that the federal employee retirement process does not 
provide prompt and complete benefit payments upon retirement, and that 
customer service expectations for more timely payments are increasing. 
The agency also reports that a greater workload is expected due to an 
anticipated increase in the number of retirement applications over the 
next decade, although current retirement processing operations are at 
full capacity. Further, the agency has identified several factors that 
limit its ability to process retirement benefits in an efficient and 
timely manner. Specifically, OPM noted that: 

* current processes are paper-based and manually intensive, resulting 
in a higher number of errors and delays in providing benefit payments; 

* the high costs, limited capabilities, and other problems with the 
existing information systems and processes pose increasing risks to 
the accuracy of benefit payments; 

* current manual capabilities restrict customer service; 

* federal employees have limited access to retirement records, making 
planning for retirement difficult; and: 

* attracting qualified personnel to operate and maintain the 
antiquated retirement systems, which have about 3 million lines of 
custom programming, is challenging.[Footnote 5] 

OPM Has a Long History of Unsuccessful Retirement Modernization 
Initiatives: 

Recognizing the need to modernize its retirement processing, in the 
late 1980s OPM began initiatives that have called for automating its 
antiquated paper-based processes. Initial modernization visions called 
for developing an integrated system and automated processes to provide 
prompt and complete benefit payments. However, following attempts over 
more than two decades, the agency has not yet been successful in 
achieving the modernized retirement system that it envisioned. 

* In early 1987, OPM began a program called the FERS Automated 
Processing System (FAPS). However, after 8 years of planning, the 
agency decided to reevaluate the program and the Office of Management 
and Budget requested an independent review of the program that 
identified various management weaknesses. The independent review 
suggested areas for improvement and recommended terminating the 
program if immediate action was not taken. In mid-1996, OPM terminated 
the program. 

* In 1997, OPM began planning a second modernization initiative, 
called the Retirement Systems Modernization (RSM) program. The agency 
originally intended to structure the program as an acquisition of 
commercially available hardware and software that would be modified in-
house to meet its needs. From 1997 to 2001, OPM developed plans and 
analyses and began developing business and security requirements for 
the program. However, in June 2001, it decided to change the direction 
of the retirement modernization initiative. 

* In late 2001, retaining the name RSM, the agency embarked upon its 
third initiative to modernize the retirement process and examined the 
possibility of privately sourced technologies and tools. Toward this 
end, the agency determined that contracting was a viable alternative 
and, in 2006, awarded three contracts for the automation of the 
retirement process, to include the conversion of paper records to 
electronic files and consulting services to redesign its retirement 
operations. 

* In February 2008, OPM renamed the program RetireEZ and deployed an 
automated retirement processing system. However, by May 2008 the 
agency determined that the system was not working as expected and 
suspended system operation. In October 2008, after 5 months of 
attempting to address quality issues, the agency terminated the 
contract for the system. In November 2008, OPM began restructuring the 
program and reported that its efforts to modernize retirement 
processing would continue. However, after several years of trying to 
revitalize the program, the agency terminated retirement system 
modernization in February 2011. 

IT Management Weaknesses Have Repeatedly Hindered OPM's Retirement 
Modernization Efforts: 

OPM's efforts to modernize its retirement system have been hindered by 
weaknesses in several key project management disciplines. Our 
experience with major modernization initiatives has shown that having 
sound IT management capabilities is essential to achieving successful 
outcomes. Among others, these capabilities include project management, 
risk management, organizational change management, system testing, 
cost estimating, progress reporting, planning, and oversight. However, 
we found that many of the capabilities in these areas were not 
sufficiently developed. For example, in reporting on RSM in February 
2005, we noted weaknesses in key management capabilities, such as 
project management, risk management, and organizational change 
management.[Footnote 6] 

* Project management is the process for planning and managing all 
project-related activities, including defining how project components 
are interrelated. Effective project management allows the performance, 
cost, and schedule of the overall project to be measured and 
controlled in comparison to planned objectives. Although OPM had 
defined major retirement modernization project components, it had not 
defined the dependencies among them. Specifically, the agency had not 
identified critical tasks and their impact on the completion of other 
tasks. By not identifying critical dependencies among retirement 
modernization components, OPM increased the risk that unforeseen 
delays in one activity could hinder progress in other activities. 

* Risk management is the process for identifying potential problems 
before they occur. Risks should be identified as early as possible, 
analyzed, mitigated, and tracked to closure. OPM officials 
acknowledged that they did not have a process for identifying and 
tracking retirement modernization project risks and mitigation 
strategies on a regular basis but stated that the agency's project 
management consultant would assist it in implementing a risk 
management process. Without such a process, OPM did not have a 
mechanism to address potential problems that could adversely impact 
the cost, schedule, and quality of the retirement modernization 
project. 

* Organizational change management is the process of preparing users 
for the changes to how their work will be performed as a result of a 
new system implementation. Effective organizational change management 
includes plans to prepare users for impacts the new system might have 
on their roles and responsibilities, and a process to manage those 
changes. Although OPM officials stated that change management posed a 
substantial challenge to the success of retirement modernization, they 
had not developed a detailed plan to help users transition to 
different job responsibilities. Without having and implementing such a 
plan, confusion about user roles and responsibilities could have 
hindered effective implementation of new retirement systems. 

We recommended that the Director of OPM ensure that the retirement 
modernization program office expeditiously establish processes for 
effective project management, risk management, and organizational 
change management. In response, the agency initiated steps toward 
establishing management processes for retirement modernization and 
demonstrated activities to address our recommendations. 

We again reported on OPM's retirement modernization in January 2008, 
as the agency was on the verge of deploying a new automated retirement 
processing system.[Footnote 7] We noted weaknesses in additional key 
management capabilities, including system testing, cost estimating, 
and progress reporting. 

* Effective testing is an essential activity of any project that 
includes system development. Generally, the purpose of testing is to 
identify defects or problems in meeting defined system requirements or 
satisfying system user needs. At the time of our review, 1 month 
before OPM planned to deploy a major system component, test results 
showed that the component had not performed as intended. We warned 
that until actual test results indicated improvement in the system, 
OPM risked deploying technology that would not accurately calculate 
retirement benefits. Although the agency planned to perform additional 
tests to verify that the system would work as intended, the schedule 
for conducting these tests became compressed from 5 months to 2-1/2 
months, with several tests to be performed concurrently rather than in 
sequence. The agency identified a lack of testing resources, including 
the availability of subject matter experts, and the need for further 
system development as contributing to the delay of planned tests and 
the need for concurrent testing. The high degree of concurrent testing 
that OPM planned to meet its February 2008 deployment schedule 
increased the risk that the agency would not have the resources or 
time to verify that the planned system worked as expected. 

* Cost estimating represents the identification of individual project 
cost elements, using established methods and valid data to estimate 
future costs. The establishment of a reliable cost estimate is 
important for developing a project budget and having a sound basis for 
measuring performance, including comparing the actual and planned 
costs of project activities. Although OPM developed a retirement 
modernization cost estimate, the estimate was not supported by the 
documentation that is fundamental to a reliable cost estimate. Without 
a reliable cost estimate, OPM did not have a sound basis for 
formulating retirement modernization budgets or for developing the 
cost baseline that is necessary for measuring and predicting project 
performance. 

* Earned value management (EVM) is a tool for measuring program 
progress by comparing the value of work accomplished with the amount 
of work expected to be accomplished. Fundamental to reliable EVM is 
the development of a baseline against which variances are calculated. 
OPM used EVM to measure and report monthly performance of the 
retirement modernization system. The reported results provided a 
favorable view of project performance over time because the variances 
indicated the project was progressing almost exactly as planned. 
However, this view of project performance was not reliable because the 
baseline on which it was based did not reflect the full scope of the 
project, had not been validated, and was unstable (i.e., subject to 
frequent changes). This EVM approach in effect ensured that material 
variances from planned project performance would not be identified and 
that the state of the project would not be reliably reported. 

We recommended that the Director of OPM address these deficiencies by, 
among other things, conducting effective system tests prior to system 
deployment, in addition to improving program cost estimation and 
progress reporting. In response to our report, OPM stated that it 
concurred with our recommendations and stated that it would take steps 
to address the weakness we identified. Nevertheless, OPM deployed a 
limited initial version of the modernized retirement system in 
February 2008. After unsuccessful efforts to address system quality 
issues, the agency suspended system operation, terminated the system 
contract, and began restructuring the modernization effort. 

In April 2009, we again reported on OPM's retirement modernization, 
noting that the agency still remained far from achieving the 
modernized retirement processing capabilities that it had planned. 
[Footnote 8] Specifically, we noted that significant weaknesses 
continued to exist in three key management areas that we had 
previously identified--cost estimating, progress reporting, and 
testing--while also noting two additional weaknesses related to 
planning and oversight. 

* Despite agreeing with our January 2008 recommendation that OPM 
develop a revised retirement modernization cost estimate, the agency 
had not completed initial steps for developing a new cost estimate by 
the time we reported again in April 2009. At that time, we reported 
that the agency had not yet fully defined the estimate's purpose, 
developed an estimating plan, or defined the project's 
characteristics. By not completing these steps, OPM increased the risk 
that it would produce an unreliable estimate and not have a sound 
basis for measuring project performance and formulating retirement 
modernization budgets. 

* Although it agreed with our January 2008 recommendation to establish 
a basis for effective EVM, OPM had not completed key steps as of the 
time of our April 2009 report. Specifically, despite planning to begin 
reporting on the retirement project's progress using EVM, the agency 
was not prepared to do so because initial steps, including the 
development of a reliable cost estimate and the validation of a 
baseline, had not been completed. Engaging in EVM reporting without 
first performing these fundamental steps could have again rendered the 
agency's assessments unreliable. 

* As previously discussed, effective testing is an essential component 
of any project that includes developing systems. To be effectively 
managed, testing should be planned and conducted in a structured and 
disciplined fashion. Beginning the test planning process in the early 
stages of a project life cycle can reduce rework later. Early test 
planning in coordination with requirements development can provide 
major benefits. For example, planning for test activities during the 
development of requirements may reduce the number of defects 
identified later and the costs related to requirements rework or 
change requests. OPM's need to compress its testing schedule and 
conduct tests concurrently, as we reported in January 2008, 
illustrates the importance of planning test activities early in a 
project's life cycle. However, at the time of our April 2009 report, 
the agency had not begun to plan test activities in coordination with 
developing its requirements for the system it was planning at that 
time. Consequently, OPM increased the risk that it would again deploy 
a system that did not satisfy user expectations and meet requirements. 

* Project management principles and effective practices emphasize the 
importance of having a plan that, among other things, incorporates all 
the critical areas of system development and is to be used as a means 
of determining what needs to be done, by whom, and when. Although OPM 
had developed a variety of informal documents and briefing slides that 
described retirement modernization activities, the agency did not have 
a complete plan that described how the program would proceed in the 
wake of its decision to terminate the system contract. As a result, we 
concluded that until the agency completed and used a plan that could 
guide its efforts, it would not be properly positioned to move forward 
with its restructured retirement modernization initiative. 

* Office of Management and Budget and GAO guidance calls for agencies 
to ensure effective oversight of IT projects throughout all life-cycle 
phases. Critical to effective oversight are investment management 
boards made up of key executives who regularly track the progress of 
IT projects such as system acquisitions or modernizations. OPM's 
Investment Review Board was established to ensure that major 
investments are on track by reviewing their progress and determining 
appropriate actions when investments encounter challenges. Despite 
meeting regularly and being provided with information that indicated 
problems with the retirement modernization, the board did not ensure 
that retirement modernization investments were on track, nor did it 
determine appropriate actions for course correction when needed. For 
example, from January 2007 to August 2008, the board met and was 
presented with reports that described problems the retirement 
modernization program was facing, such as the lack of an integrated 
master schedule and earned value data that did not reflect the 
"reality or current status" of the program. However, meeting minutes 
indicated that no discussion or action was taken to address these 
problems. According to a member of the board, OPM guidance regarding 
how the board is to communicate recommendations and needed corrective 
actions for investments it is responsible for overseeing had not been 
established. Without a fully functioning oversight body, OPM could not 
monitor the retirement modernization and make the course corrections 
that effective boards are intended to provide. 

Our April 2009 report made new recommendations that OPM address the 
weaknesses in the retirement modernization project that we identified. 
Although the agency began taking steps to address them, the 
recommendations were overtaken by the agency's decision in February 
2011 to terminate the retirement modernization project. 

In November 2011, agency officials, including the Chief Information 
Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and Associate Director for 
Retirement Services, told us that OPM does not plan to initiate 
another large-scale effort to modernize the retirement process. 
Rather, the officials said the agency intends to take targeted steps 
to improve retirement processing that will include: 

* hiring and training approximately 100 new staff to help improve the 
timeliness of processing retirement applications and responding to 
retirement claims; 

* demonstrating the capability to automate retirement applications; 

* working with other agencies to improve the quality of electronic 
data they transmit to OPM for use in retirement processing; and: 

* improving OPM's retirement services website to allow enhanced 
communication. 

Under this approach, OPM does not currently have plans to modernize 
the existing, antiquated retirement systems that the agency has long 
identified as necessary to accomplishing retirement modernization and 
improving the timeliness and accuracy of benefit payments. 

In summary, despite OPM's recognition of the need to improve the 
timeliness and accuracy of retirement processing, the agency has thus 
far been unsuccessful in several attempts to develop the capabilities 
it has long sought. For over two decades, the agency's retirement 
modernization efforts have been plagued by weaknesses in management 
capabilities that are critical to the success of such endeavors. Among 
the management disciplines the agency has struggled with are project 
management, risk management, organizational change management, cost 
estimating, system testing, progress reporting, planning, and 
oversight. Even though the agency is now considering only modest 
efforts to improve retirement processing, the development and 
institutionalization of these management capabilities is key to the 
success of any future retirement modernization or other IT initiative 
that OPM undertakes. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement today. I would be pleased to 
answer any questions that you or other members of the Subcommittee may 
have at this time. 

GAO Contact and Acknowledgments: 

If you have any questions concerning this statement, please contact 
Valerie C. Melvin, Director, Information Management and Technology 
Resources Issues, at (202) 512-6304 or melvinv@gao.gov. Other 
individuals who made key contributions include Mark T. Bird, Assistant 
Director; Larry E. Crosland; Lee A. McCracken; Teresa M. Neven; and 
Charles E. Youman. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] GAO, Office of Personnel Management: Retirement Modernization 
Planning and Management Shortcomings Need to Be Addressed, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-529] (Washington, D.C.: Apr 21, 
2009); Office of Personnel Management: Improvements Needed to Ensure 
Successful Retirement Systems Modernization, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-345] (Washington, D.C.: Jan 31, 
2008); Comments on the Office of Personnel Management's February 20, 
2008 Report to Congress Regarding the Retirement Systems 
Modernization, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-576R] 
(Washington, D.C.: Mar 28, 2008); and Office of Personnel Management: 
Retirement Systems Modernization Program Faces Numerous Challenges, 
GAO-05-237 (Washington, D.C.: Feb 28, 2005). 

[2] OPM, Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Performance Report (January 2011). 

[3] OPM, An Analysis of Federal Employee Retirement Data: Predicting 
Future Retirements and Examining Factors Relevant to Retiring from the 
Federal Service (March 2008). 

[4] The Social Security Administration is responsible for 
administering Social Security, and the Federal Retirement Thrift 
Investment Board administers the defined-contribution system known as 
the Thrift Savings Plan. Defined-benefit plans calculate benefit 
amounts in advance of retirement based on factors such as salary level 
and years of service, and defined-contribution plans calculate benefit 
amounts based on how the amount is invested by the employee and 
employer. 

[5] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-529]. 

[6] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-05-237]. 

[7] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-345]. 

[8] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-529]. 

[End of section] 

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