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OPM launches electronic retirement system

The first phase of a system designed to improve the quality and timeliness of retirement services to federal employees launches Monday, according to officials at the Office of Personnel Management.

The initial rollout of the Retirement Systems Modernization project will cover 26,000 employees at the General Services Administration. In the coming months, federal retirees and employees at the U.S. Postal Service, the Interior Department's National Business Center, the National Finance Center in the Agriculture Department and the Defense Department will fall under the program. All remaining federal agencies will begin converting to the new retirement system in February 2009, according to OPM.

The RSM project is designed to expedite and improve the quality of services to the more than 3 million active employees covered under the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System.

It often takes months for federal employees to receive an accurate annuity payment when they retire, because OPM stores its paper-based retirement benefits documents in file cabinets in Boyers, Pa. An OPM official has said if the cabinets were laid out end to end, they would stretch from Washington to Baltimore and begin a return trip.

By eliminating paper records, the new system is expected to help the government better manage the retirement benefits of the 60 percent of federal employees expected to retire during the next decade.

Still, the system could present some challenges. Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office cautioned that one of the key RSM components -- the defined benefits technology solution -- might not function properly. The DBTS is intended to provide employees self-service Internet-based tools for accessing accounts, retirement records, submitting transactions, monitoring claims and forecasting retirement income.

"Until actual test results indicate improved system quality, [OPM] faces increased risk that it will deploy technology that does not work as expected," GAO said.

OPM did not return calls seeking comment on whether the first phase of the system addresses GAO's concerns. OPM Director Linda Springer said earlier this month that the agency has dedicated additional resources to tackle the problems with RSM, and put together a comprehensive strategy to keep the overall program on track. She also noted that in a recent round of testing, the backlog of urgent and high-priority defects were reduced slightly.

Employees and retirees will be able to access the RSM system and retirement information via the Your Benefits Resource, a Web site interface. They will receive a user identification and password that will enable them to access their retirement information in a secure environment, OPM said.

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