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The data mining of federal retirement files

Ian Harvey

We the 21st century humans pride ourselves to be the digitalized humans, with almost every aspect of our modern lifestyle controlled and run on machines. However only a few decades ago, some of the most significant record work was carried out by able and skilled workers.

It may become a challenge to find a significant established company that runs on paper records.

However in the Pennsylvanian countryside some very important federal operations are conducted purely on the basis of papers and manual filing.

Deep underground, some 20 stories beneath Pennsylvania, federal employees work days and nights processing and preparing the retirement papers of other employees who leave the government services.

The process is as slow as it was decades ago, employees sift through thousands of filing cabinets and the files figuratively crawl from hand to hand and desk to desk before reaching the final stage of completion.

The process of handling the retirement paper works is split into a number of processes explained briefly below;

Delivery – the retirement papers are received

Fedex's first van displayed at the FedEx World Headquarters Photo Credit
Fedex’s first van displayed at the FedEx World Headquarters Photo Credit

After a retired employee submits his retirement papers, the initial file arrives in the underground tunnel system 50 miles north of Pittsburgh.

In normal conditions the file is received by the workers at the site in one or maximum two days after the employee submits it in the relevant department. It is the job of FedEx to securely deliver the files and after it is received it is then initially analyzed and passed on to the next more important stages.

Retrieving the History

This stage involves the gathering of all the previous data about the personnel and their services. The employees then plunge into the massive 8 underground rooms assigned to keep the old records of the federal employees. Each of these rooms is as wide as one football pitch and as long as almost two pitches.

And despite these gigantic tunnels, there is only 17% of the data available here in the rooms, most of the data is digitalized and is kept on secure drives. The employees then have to gather all the relevant information from the rooms and drive to prepare the file which could be many inches thick and could contain hundreds of papers.

Finding the Missing Elements

Dozens of employees then get to work hunting down any missing pieces of information such as signatures, old payroll records, and any changes in the contracts made in the past.

These employees spend weeks tracking down the information by making number of phone calls and writing a number of emails, they have to make sure no aspect of the file is left blank and all information is present in the paper work.

Data Entry

This is perhaps the most significant and supposedly fast paced stage of the process, however there are many complications since it involves computer programmes and networks. When the healthy or complete file reaches the data entry stage, 133 employees get to work entering the information on the file into a computer program. The software is custom designed for the purpose and independently decides the amount of payout employee receives.

The Review

Seal of the United States Office of Personnel Management Photo Credit
Seal of the United States Office of Personnel Management Photo Credit

In the final stage of the case, an OPM official reviews the final result produced by the computer program to make sure it’s free of any anomalies.

This review can take up to 3 days and after the case is thoroughly reviewed it is then ‘triggered’, which means the retiree can then start receiving his benefit cheques. The whole process from filing the application and getting it triggered could take up to 60 days, unless some complications hinder the process.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News