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. —

This is Step 4.

Now that all the retiree's digital data have been turned into paperwork, these workers turn that paperwork into digital data again. They type all the pertinent information into a computer, by hand.

"You can do a case in as little as an hour," said Bonnie McCandless, the president of the center's local labor union, whose job is entering this data. "Or you can do a case as long as eight hours, or two days."

The task takes so much time in part because Congress has made the federal retirement rules extremely complex. The center's workers must verify and key in information that answers a huge range of questions: What were the retiree's three years of highest salary? Was the retiree a firefighter? A military veteran? A cafeteria worker at the U.S. Capitol? What about part-time service?

All those answers can change the final pension payment. "One hundred years of bad laws," McCandless said.

The nightmare cases are the "re-employed annuitants." A government worker retires. Then un-retires. Then gets another job with the government. Then retires again.

The law allows that. But it is a heck of a mess to deal with.

"I'm working on one, and it's going on three weeks," said an employee sitting near McCandless.

When all the data are entered into the computer, it is onto Step 5. Another employee reviews the case to be sure the data were entered correctly. Then, at last, the case is "triggered." The retiree gets the full check.

That process now takes, on average, at least 61 days. That's the same amount of time it took in 1977, according to a federal audit from that time. Many state retirement systems, which also handle large loads of employees, do it much faster. Florida takes 47 days. The California teachers' retirement system takes 23. Texas takes two.

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