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HELENA — Sen. Jon Tester said Thursday he wants the Office of Personnel Management to stop wasting money by moving federal retirees’ records, by hand, around a massive cave in Pennsylvania.

In 1977, when Tester, 20, was about to take over his family’s farm outside Big Sandy, the federal government took an average 61 days to process a federal government worker’s retirement papers by hand.

Thirty-seven years later, Tester is now Montana’s senior senator, but the federal government, despite widespread adoption of electronic records, is still averaging 61 days to process workers’ retirement papers and still doing it by hand, he said. 

This delay, he said, not only adds costs for taxpayers, but forces retirees to wait months for their full retirement benefits.

Tester, who chairs the Senate subcommittee overseeing the federal workforce and federal programs, said enough is enough.

In a letter Thursday, he called on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to fix the problem and stop wasting taxpayer dollars and putting retirees’ lives on hold.

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“Over the last 30 years, OPM has aborted its own modernization efforts because of a lack of planning and accountability,” Tester wrote OMP Director Kathleen Archuleta. “The result of these failed efforts has been significant cost to the taxpayer with virtually nothing to show for it. This is unacceptable for the over five million active and federal employees who rely on timely and accurate processing of their retirement benefits.” 

Modernization attempts over nearly 30 years have failed because of repeated project mismanagement and a lack of proper oversight, he said.

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“This egregious waste needs to stop,” Tester said in the letter. “Modernization efforts must not only include moving away from a paper-based system, but also include new systems and methods to keep pace with developing technologies.”

Three other senators, one Democrat and two Republicans, signed the letter. 

The Washington Post on Sunday ran a story, “Sinkhole of bureaucracy,” about the underground records facility in Boyers, Pa. 

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Managing editor at The Billings Gazette.