OPM's Central Personnel Data File:

Data Appear Sufficiently Reliable to Meet Most Customer Needs

GGD-98-199: Published: Sep 30, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) database of federal civilian employees, the Central Personnel Data File (CPDF), focusing on: (1) the extent to which selected CPDF data elements are accurate, including the data elements used by OPM's Office of the Actuaries for estimating the government's liability for future payments of federal retirement programs; (2) whether selected users of CPDF data believed that CPDF products met their needs, including whether the products were current, accurate, and complete and whether the cautions OPM provided to them on the limitations associated with using the data were sufficient for them to present the CPDF data correctly; and (3) whether OPM has documented changes to the Central Personnel Data System and verified the System's acceptance of those changes, as recommended in applicable federal guidance, and whether the System would implement CPDF edits as intended.

GAO noted that: (1) OPM does not have an official standard for the desired accuracy of CPDF data elements; (2) on a periodic basis, however, OPM measures CPDF data accuracy by comparing certain data found in a sample of former federal employees' official personnel folders to data in the CPDF for the same period; (3) OPM generally makes the results of its measurements of CPDF data accuracy available to users of CPDF data within OPM but not to non-OPM users; (4) although the accuracy of the CPDF data GAO reviewed varied by data element, about two-thirds of the selected CPDF data elements GAO reviewed were 99-percent or more accurate; (5) GAO surveyed all the requesters of CPDF products that OPM identified as obtaining data directly from OPM for fiscal year (FY) 1996; (6) most of these CPDF users reported that CPDF products met their needs, including the data being current, accurate, and complete; (7) the majority of surveyed users reported that they believed that the caution statements OPM provided were sufficient for them to use CPDF data correctly; (8) however, OPM did not provide these users of CPDF data with all 28 cautions that explain how CPDF limitations could affect how they present or use CPDF data; (9) although applicable federal guidance recommended that agencies document the life cycle of an automated information system from its initiation through installation and operation, OPM did not document changes that it made to the System in 1986 when it did a major redesign of the System's software; (10) OPM also did not have documentation to show that acceptance testing of those changes was done and, according to OPM, the testing was not done by an independent reviewer; (11) however, OPM officials said that to their knowledge the System has not had problems processing data reliably; (12) GAO's review of the computer instructions for most CPDF edits used by the System showed that the System uses instructions that should implement the CPDF edits reviewed as intended; (13) OPM officials acknowledged that for OPM to accomplish its future information technology goals it will have to follow an approach that includes documenting the development, modification, and management of its automated information systems and their software applications; and (14) OPM has committed to adopting this approach by no later than FY 2002.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should document any changes to the Civilian Personnel Data File (CPDF) before OPM adopts an agencywide system development life cycle approach as specified in the Capability Maturity Model guidelines and that such changes be independently verified to ensure that they still work as intended.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's September 30, 1998 report on OPM's Central Personnel Data File (CPDF) recommended that OPM document any changes to the CPDF before OPM adopts an agency-wide system development life cycle approach as specified in the Capability Maturity Model guidelines and that such changes be independently verified to ensure that they still work as intended. OPM has implemented this recommendation through its phased implementation of the Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) which essentially replaces the CPDF. The phased implementation of the EHRI began in April 2007 and will enable OPM to collect, integrate, and publish data regarding the 1.8 million Executive Branch employees on a bi-weekly basis. EHRI will also store workforce information sent from Executive Branch agencies and has three enhancements - a central data repository for all Executive Branch employee records; an electronic Official Employee Record, and a set of analytical tools for human capital forecasting and trend analysis, which OPM has reported will be discontinued as of Sept. 30, 2010. OPM's Project Management Office (PMO) is responsible for ensuring that standard system development processes and procedures are followed when changes are made to the system. EHRI uses BluePrint Requirement Center to document and track requirements that enable EHRI to have a central requirements repository for better requirements management, tracking and traceability. Also, EHRI is using the OPM standard System Development Lifecycle documentation. Furthermore, EHRI has a Change Management/Configuration Management process in place and a Change Control Board that meets bi-weekly to review/evaluate enhancement requests and keep track of progress. OPM has retained Richard Carson & Associates to conduct an independent review that changes made to the EHRI are working as intended.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should make the results of OPM's measurements of historical accuracy available to all users. To make this information available OPM could post the results of its accuracy measurements on its Internet web site including cautionary language indicating that the accuracy of CPDF data elements may vary by agency. OPM could also inform users of the availability of this information whenever it distributes CPDF data or reports.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has added CPDF accuracy study results to the OPM Internet site.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should ensure that OPM make all 28 caution statements about limitations associated with CPDF data available to all users. In addition, it may be useful for OPM to continue its practice of highlighting cautions on the data limitations of the CPDF that are most likely to be applicable to the interests of a particular requester of CPDF data. To make this information available to all users, OPM could: (1) post, on its Internet web site, a complete listing of the 28 caution statements about limitations associated with CPDF data; (2) appraise all recipients of CPDF data of the availability of the caution statements; and (3) implement its proposal to bundle specific cautions on limitations associated with specific sets of data.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has added comprehensive CPDF data limitation information to its OPM Internet site.

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