OPM cites 'great strides' in hiring reform, mixed progress in retirement processing

Monday - 3/12/2012, 5:00am EDT

Jonathan Foley, director of planning and policy analysis, OPM

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OPM met just more than half of its two dozen performance measures for 2011, according to an annual performance report released in February However, among the agency's "high-priority" goals, such as telework and hiring reform, the report cites "great strides."

All told, of the 24 performance metrics, OPM met 13 of them and failed to meet eight. Another three goals remained undetermined.

Jonathan Foley, OPM's director of planning and policy analysis.

Hiring reform

OPM's goal was to reduce the time it takes to hire new employees by 10 percent and improve satisfaction scores of both hiring managers and applicants. An executive order signed by President Barack Obama in May 2010 made faster hiring times a top priority for the agency.

"To date, the general progress made in implementing the President's Hiring Reform Initiative has exceeded expectations, although much work remains to be done," the report states.

"As with many things we do at OPM, we work with other federal agencies to improve performance across the government and so that makes it an inherently complex task because we have a number of agencies to work with," said Jonathan Foley, OPM's director of planning and policy analysis, in an interview on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. "But we have a high level of cooperation."

The report noted advances in manager satisfaction with the quality of applicants — rising from 58 percent in the first quarter of 2011 to 63 percent by the end of the year. Similarly, applicants, themselves, reported a slight increase in satisfaction with the application process — inching from 69 percent to 70 percent satisfaction over the same time period.

The agency also launched a bevy of hiring initiatives, including a website for federal human-resources managers offering training and guidance.

Telework

Under the dictates of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, OPM is tasked with supporting agencies' use of telework, particularly for continuity-of-operations and cost-savings.

Foley said the agency is proud of its achievements in teleworking, especially because it's such an ambitious goal.

"Telework is a change in culture," he said. "It requires training, it requires education, it requires that agencies coordinate their strategies. And so it's not something that necessarily happens over night."

OPM worked with the Chief Human Capital Officer Council to set guidance for using telework in emergency preparedness and added the category "unscheduled telework" to its dismissal and closure procedures.

Retirement claims processing

In his introduction to the report, OPM Director John Berry also cited "challenges" OPM faced in its strategic goals.

For example, OPM failed to meet its goal of having 33 percent of employees covered by certified appraisal systems. However, the report noted a new appraisal system — for evaluating the performance of Senior Executive Service members — would provide greater "consistency, clarity, transferability and equity" in performance standards.

In the area of processing retirements, where the agency has long drawn negative reviews, the report found mixed progress.

On the one hand, the agency met its goal of processing retirement applications within 125 days. The report noted the current time frame — which has ballooned from 30 days just five years ago — is a "reflection of the agency's management of the retirement claims workload-given current staffing levels and the fact there was no unexpected surge of early retirements."

OPM also increased the number of completed retirement applications it receives from agencies. Incomplete applications, which OPM must spend time further developing, contribute to the processing backlog. Eighty-two percent of the retirement applications OPM received in 2011 were complete, which actually exceeded the agency's goal.

"With fewer incomplete applications, OPM will spend less time contacting agencies and annuitants to develop claims, which should contribute to fewer days required to process claims," the report stated.

But OPM fell behind in its efforts to bring the average cost of processing individual retirements to a target cost of $101.23. Part of the reason is because the agency is increasingly processing more retirement for employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System, which take longer to process than those for the older Civil Service Retirement System.

Finally, customer satisfaction with OPM's retirement services — at 76 percent — still lags behind the agency's goal of an 88 percent satisfaction rate.

Overall, OPM's goal is to reduce the time it takes to process retirements to 60 days by July 2013. Foley said the agency is actually ahead of schedule — two months into an 18-month timeline for doing so. "We're on track to achieve that goal," he said.

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