Government Agency Processes Paperwork ‘Entirely By Hand’ Despite Spending Over $100M to Go Digital

Alissa Tabirian /

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

About 600 federal employees process federal retirement claims in an old mine in Pennsylvania, using more than 28,000 file cabinets to house paperwork “done entirely by hand,” according to the first story in The Washington Post’s series on “failures at the heart of troubled federal systems.”

Decades ago, the government began using the mine in Boyers, Pennsylvania for personnel file storage. Over time, however, the mine grew into a work site for Office of Personnel Management employees, many of whom consider themselves “miserable” due to the lack of sunlight in their underground workspace.

Now, the mine is home to a multi-step process in which federal retirees’ digital data is turned into paperwork—and then back to digital once all of the individual’s missing paperwork is compiled. On average, this process takes “at least 61 days” and, in many cases, the misplaced paperwork and “lost files inside an underground cavern had been bad enough to force a career change.”

This phenomenon reflects the troublesome limitations of many federal agencies, according to Diane Katz, a regulatory policy expert at The Heritage Foundation. “Hearing yet another story about government’s gross inefficiency is a reminder of why it’s such a bad idea to bestow upon Washington bureaucrats ever-more power over our lives,” Katz said.

The Post reported that although the government has spent over $100 million to modernize and digitize the retirement claims process, these attempts at reform have been unsuccessful and the wasteful, paper-based bureaucracy grinds on.

In light of its failed attempts at digitization, the government attempted to boost productivity by adding additional employees. According to the report, “the staff working in the mine has increased by at least 200 people in the past five years. And the cost of processing each claim has increased from $82 to $108, as total spending on the retirement system reached $55.8 million.”

This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.