NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

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March 24, 2014

Retirees' paperwork, stuck in a mine, points to government's balky IT problems

(Continued)

BOYERS, Pa. —

"Nobody up there goes on to another job. You can work Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. . . . There's mostly overtime, if you want it. They're really flexible about using leave," said Patty DeCaria, 57, who retired last year after 38 years in the mine. DeCaria said she also enjoyed the sense that she was helping people who deserved it. "People don't leave Boyers," she said.

Still, at best, it's a good job in a bad place.

In the winter, employees enter the mine in the dark and leave in the dark. Food must be brought in from outside, because you can't have an open flame in a mine. So there is a pizza guy, with a security clearance, who arrives every day at 11:30 a.m. Another vendor, Randy Armagost, trucks in hot lunches and an assortment of at least four deep-fried items every day.

"People are crabby. They're miserable. I mean, you can't blame them. They never see any sunlight," Armagost said. "I'm only down there for 2 1/2 hours a day, and I can't stand it."

For workers inside the mine, Step 2 in the paperwork process is to take the retiree's newly arrived file and match it up with any records already stored in the mine.

In about 15 percent of the cases, that means a long walk into the mine's eight massive file caverns. Inside, they are empty enough to be spooky.

"I heard rumors of ghosts, out in the files," DeCaria said. "They just pull drawers open."

In most cases, however, Step 2 can be completed without a walk. The retiree's files have been scanned into a digital archive and can be looked up on a computer.

But there's a problem: All the information must go in the retiree's manila folder.

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