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Congress / GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS

Federal Worker Retirement Backlog Continues to Fall

August 6, 2012

Government Executive is part of the National Journal Group Inc. and the Atlantic Media Company. From time to time, Government Executive and National Journal will share content and collaborate on features and events.

The Office of Personnel Management processed more retirement claims than it expected to in July, according to the latest numbers from the agency.

The claims backlog now stands at 44,679 -- a 27 percent drop overall since the beginning of 2012. The agency received 260 more applications in July than expected, and it processed 804 more than the projected goal for the month. In July, OPM processed 12,304 claims, 3,340 more than it completed in June.

The claims backlog in December 2011 was 48,378. So, comparing July 2012 to that figure, the backlog is down 7.6 percent. New claims are filed every month, however, and add to the current inventory. In January, the number of claims in the queue stood at 61,108.

 

Despite the slow and steady progress OPM has made in tackling the backlog, many federal retirees still wait several months for their applications to be fully processed and their entire annuity payments to kick in. On average, it takes 156 days to process a claim, but many retirees wait much longer than that for their full annuity payments. Government Executive readers continue to share frustrating experiences trying to obtain their full retirement benefits soon after they leave government service.

“My wife retired at the end of February, and OPM received all the paperwork on March 22, and her claim is still not finalized,” said one reader in July in response to a story about the retirement backlog. “We spoke to OPM, and the rep we spoke with said it was taking eight months. That sure is a lot more than 156 days.” Others also complained the agency has underestimated the 156-day average claims processing time that OPM officials previously cited in congressional testimony.

“I worked over 30 years for the federal government and this is how they honor my service? I'm livid!” said another reader, who retired at the end of January and is receiving partial payments. “This is costing me because I've had to tap into an IRA to make ends meet. Others aren't as fortunate. Yet, we just have to sit back and take it.”

OPM administers benefits for 2.5 million federal retirees and processes about 100,000 new claims annually. Director John Berry has said eliminating the backlog is his highest priority in 2012. Earlier this year, OPM unveiled a plan that aims to get rid of the claims backlog within 18 months and to reduce processing times so that 90 percent of applications are administered within two months of receipt.

Dave Snell of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said the organization is “happy” with the progress OPM has made in reducing the claims backlog. “OPM finally looked at it like a crisis that needed to be dealt with, and they’ve laid out a plan and stuck to it, and it seems to be working,” said Snell, who is NARFE’s director of federal benefits services.

“There’s always going to be those folks whose individual cases are hung up for some reason or another,” Snell said, citing court orders as a result of divorce or incomplete paperwork provided to OPM from an employee’s agency as reasons for delays.

Processing retirement claims, particularly disability claims, can be complex, especially since OPM relies heavily on other federal agencies to provide retirees' information, including the amount of their annuity. The agency uses more than 500 procedures, laws, and regulations to review retirement applications.

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