OPM gives retirement, benefits IT modernization another go

The Office of Personnel Management will take another look at the modernization of its benefits and retirement IT systems — an effort that's been underway without much success for the better part of the past three decades.
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The Office of Personnel Management is taking another look at the modernization of its benefits and retirement IT systems — an effort that’s been underway without much success for the better part of the past three decades.

OPM will host an industry day Wednesday to engage IT vendors interested responding to its request for information for retirement services IT systems development and maintenance, which it published Nov. 15.

The agency, the RFI explains, will need a contractor that can support the operations and maintenance work of OPM’s legacy retirement and benefits systems — which currently hold a backlog of nearly 17,000 claims as of October — while simultaneously developing, modernizing and enhancing those systems.

OPM’s retirement services IT program management office, under the watch of new CIO Dave DeVries, currently supports more than 80 systems. Most of them are outdated.


“The current systems are legacy coded, and are considered high or medium risk from a technology perspective,” the draft performance of work statement says. “In addition to the technical risk, the age of the systems themselves adds to the difficulties required to maintain them. In addition, the ‘systems’ are complex from a business perspective; their age and choice of technology make them challenging to operate and brittle to maintain. Modifying them to accommodate legislative mandates and changing business needs is arduous, fraught with difficulties, and risks.”

OPM calls for the use of agile methodology and commercial off-the-shelf technologies in the procurement, slated to kick off May 1, 2017, with a one-year period of performance and four optional years.

“Retirement Systems is moving toward a system focused more on overall data, versus a system set up for a particular silo or system,” an OPM spokesperson told FedScoop in an emailed statement. “This multi-year, data-driven effort isn’t more difficult from a technical perspective, but it will require attention to logistics as OPM sets up exchanges and standards with all participating partners. There will be future RFIs published that will help define this new approach – similar to other efforts across the government.”

The agency has tried several times now to modernize its retirement and benefits systems, beginning in 1987 with the Federal Employee Retirement System Automated Processing System program. That effort, however, was canceled after an internal review in 1995 found the program was at high risk of failure, after eight years of work and about $25 million in investment, according to a 2005 Government Accountability Office report.

That same GAO report also details the evolution of the Retirement Systems Modernization program, which was significantly altered in 2001. In 2006, it was awarded to Hewitt Associates in a 10-year, $290 million contract. Two years later, OPM canceled that project, saying it would continue developing the program without the contractor.


The current contract to support the retirement systems’ operations and maintenance is set to expire in January 2017, but OPM hopes to extend that through the end of the fiscal year, OPM told FedScoop.

Billy Mitchell

Written by Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell is Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of Scoop News Group's editorial brands. He oversees operations, strategy and growth of SNG's award-winning tech publications, FedScoop, StateScoop, CyberScoop, EdScoop and DefenseScoop. After earning his degree at Virginia Tech and winning the school's Excellence in Print Journalism award, Billy received his master's degree from New York University in magazine writing.

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