2 key OPM retirement apps will get the Centers of Excellence treatment

The General Services Administration is turning its attention to a signature Office of Personnel Management system in need of modernization.

GSA’s Centers of Excellence will focus on OPM’s retirement services processing system, and it’s seeking industry feedback on two related projects. The agency released on Tuesday two requests for information, which describe GSA’s plans to modernize separate components of OPM’s Federal Annuity Claims Expert System (FACES).

Specifically, OPM wants to replace both the outdated desktop FACES application and the calculator used to determine employees’ retirement benefits.

OPM retirement services employees rely on this system to adjudicate and process nearly 80,000 employee benefit actions a year, according to the RFIs.

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“FACES is a reliable and accurate system, but it was built with tools that are no longer supported by the manufacturer, which makes it difficult to update and maintain,” the RFIs read. “FACES wasn’t originally designed as enterprise software and there is limited documentation that describes how FACES works. Also, there is no disaster recovery plan in place in case the application suffers critical failure.”

The CoE wants to replace the old FACES desktop app with a modern web application. Future contractors will work with OPM’s Office of the Chief Information Officer to train current staff on the new application and will “empower” them to maintain the new app’s back-end systems in the future, according to the RFIs.

As for the calculator, the CoE is also envisioning a different approach. The current retirement calculator application is based on static formulas. But the new “service will introduce a system for managing business rules that, when applied, will result in calculations,” according to the RFI.

The FACES replacement app and the calculator are technically two separate projects, but GSA expects the teams working on these efforts will work together. The replacement app should wrap up first, according to the RFIs.

The RFIs are only open to contractors on GSA’s ALLIANT 2 vehicle.

GSA issued another RFI on OPM’s behalf back in July, which asked for industry proposals to help the agency eventually acquire “modern mainframe hardware” and support the agency in planning, migrating and utilizing the new hardware to eventually establish a more secure and redundant solution.

OPM’s retirement service and background investigation applications run on this mainframe hardware.

The agency joined GSA’s CoE initiative back in May as part of a concerted effort to modernize OPM’s legacy IT systems.

OPM is one of five agencies now that’s joined the CoE initiative. For OPM, the initiative is one of several mechanisms the Trump administration has considered to advance the goals of the GSA merger — without moving major pieces of the agency or getting Congress involved.

The CoEs, as well as other interagency agreements and delegated authorities, are all ways GSA could manage more OPM systems, facilities and activities, Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said back in May.

Modernizing OPM’s retirement services has been a priority for past agency directors, and the current one is no different. Dale Cabaniss, the new OPM director, told Congress during her nomination hearing the retirement system needed a top-to-bottom review.

Past efforts to modernize OPM’s retirement claims processing system have largely failed. The Government Accountability Office alerted OPM to risks and deficiencies with its retirement modernization efforts in 2005, 2008 and 2009 before noting progress in 2011. OPM abandoned the retirement modernization effort later that year.

OPM refocused its modernization efforts and developed a new vision in 2013, GAO said.

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