Why Does it Take So Long to Process Federal Employee Retirement Applications?

By on December 15, 2011 in Current Events, Retirement with 85 Comments

FedSmith has recently published articles, and hundreds of comments from readers, about how long it takes for those retiring from the federal government to have retirement applications processed by the Office of Personnel Management and for the payments of federal retirees to be fully completed. Many readers who are retired indicate it takes a very long time for their payments to get straightened out. (See, for example, The OPM Retirement Processing Backlog; Berry to Congress: Annuity Processing Backlog is Bad, Will Get Worse; and About That OPM Retirement Processing Backlog….

Perhaps it is coincidental but the Office of Personnel Management has just issued an announcement of upcoming training on speeding up the processing of retirement applications. The purpose of the training: To eliminate errors in the retirement applications.

The message in the training announcement, perhaps intended to be a subtle one to the federal workforce, appears to be that the delays for which OPM has been largely criticized are caused by those filling out the applications rather than OPM itself.

The announcement is directed at the benefit specialists in agencies that assist in preparing the retirement applications.

For those who may have missed it, here is the information on the training seminar.

Save the Date–February 1-2

will be conducting the Retirement Application Processing Symposium
(RAPS) on February 1-2 at NIH in Bethesda, MD.  RAPS will be 2 days of
workshops focusing on preparing employees for retirement and the actual
completion of the retirement application.  The audience for these
workshops is benefit specialists who are involved in counseling
employees for retirement or preparation of the retirement application.

recent audit of retirement applications reviewed by OPM found 18% of
the applications contained errors.  These errors slow the processing and
frequently result in time consuming follow up actions with agencies and
the retirees.  Helping benefits officers to provide more complete
information to employees and to better understand the application
process will help reduce those errors.

We are planning to offer the following workshops:

  • Retirement Application Processing
  • FEGLI Basics
  • Military and Civilian Deposits
  • Government Pensions and Social Security
  • Using Retirement Estimates as a Counseling Tool

Complete workshop and registration details will be available Monday, December 19th.

© 2016 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources.

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  1. Glenda says:

    I forwarded a request in July 2011 to pay a deposit that I had no idea I owed until I went to FERS retirement training.  I followed up with an OPM benefits specialist who told me they were currently working applications they had received in March 2011.  In the meantime, I am still paying interest on the amount they say I owe.  The original amount was $458–now it is close to $3,000 and I must continue to pay interest until they can get to my application and forward me the form to pay it off.  How is that fair to keep charging me interest because they don’t have the ability to process my request for a payoff sooner?  OPM must be very powerful because they appear to be untouchable. 

  2. LeMat says:

    Having retired 1Jun11, and well over the estimated “average processing time” called OPM this morning.  Was transferred to a lady on a newly created “Escalation Team” that will track your individual case; suspect that OPM is now “checking” on exactly what the processing folks are actually doing rather than just assuming things are being done as they should be.  Was told that it should be no more than 10 working days before I get called back.  Since I was CSRS, worked for one agency (continuously, no breaks), very simple package.  Advise everyone else who is in the same boat to do likewise…….    

  3. Granny says:

    OPM knew there would be a lot of retirements and should have prepared for people retiring.  Retirees should not have to wait so long for their money.  If there are errors in the retirement applications then it is on the HR specialist who goes over those applications with the person who is planning on retiring.  If they are overwhelmed at the HR level then hire some people to help.  Why is it so hard when everything is on the computer and if it is not then it should be?    If you don’t have enough staff, then hire more to replace the ones that left and hopefully they are competent enough to get the job done.  We are dealing with people’s money and some people are not as fortunate as others who have a spouse’s paycheck to fall back on.  No travel or training money?  I am sure it can be found somewhere.     

  4. Jbrtl1953 says:

    It appears to me part of the problem is their mail system.  I mailed some forms certified mail and received confirmation they were delivered to OPM on 10/27/11.  I finally got confirmation from the person they were sent to that she received them on 12/07/11.

  5. Idahocm says:

    I am at a total loss as to why it is so difficult.  Federal employees are in the computer system for normal pay every two weeks.  There is a federal computer program that gives the estimated amount of your annuity.  It is beyond me why OPM can’t pay the estimated amount of the annuity based on the computer program. Then let them figure out if the annuity is to much or not enough. They expect retirees to pay the difference out of their own pocket until they figure out the correct amount.  I would bet that what is provided by Benefits officers is fairly correct.  This appears to be an OPM excuse or is it total incompetence?

  6. Davidolee54 says:

    I retired in June, and rec’d interim pmts about 85% of the estimated final. In November I read an article that the average processing time was about 125 days, so since it had been 5 months, I called OPM. I was pleasantly surprised to get through to a representative that could find my application quickly, but she did say that it hadn’t yet been assigned to anyone. When I mentioned the article and the fact that mine was already a month longer, she said she would take care of it herself and I would see my first final pmt in January. Within 2 weeks, I rec’d the final pmt notification and benefits booklet. The final amount was exactly the amount determined by my agency.

  7. Gmcforlife says:

    I am getting ready to retire next week. My package is in my HR department all ready to go to DFAS. Yesterday I was talking to my Benefits Officer and she very nicly told me that OPM has decided that inoder to get packages completed faster they are stopping all new retiement checks of the partcial payment for the next 3 to 4 months. She told me that and hoped that I could last that long without any income until at least April or May. One other person that is retiring with me next week was also told the same thing by his Benefits Officer.
    How can they just decide something like this at the last minute. I know I planned on being short for  about 6 months but not the whole thing.

    • Fedbens says:

      I’ve heard nothing of this.  If true it is bad news indeed.  Can anybody confirm this?  Is OPM really stopping the policy of issuing interim payments?

  8. Dianehyatt says:

    I am not sure who is to blame but I know it has been over a year and a half since OPM received the documents for me to be reimbursed for the remainder of my deceased husband’s retirement.  It only took them 2 weeks to contact my bank about sending back the check – even though the check was for the prior month and he died at the end of the month.  I have been told so many different things when I called and the only one I felt was telling the truth was the last one I spoke with about 2 months ago when she told me she had no idea when I would be getting my money.  My husband died at the end of November, 2009. 

  9. Rick Burton says:

    Like others have noted, the budget cuts, especially travel/training related, have pretty much killed most travel/training for most agencies.  Add in that very few agency benefit officers are true professionals (at least in our agency), and you have a recipe for disaster.

  10. Silo says:

    I retired CSRS Dec 2010 and started receiving my full retirement checks on 1 April 2011. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones, thanks OPM…

  11. Altrustic says:

    I retired end of March 2011, timely interim payment on 5/1.  Final payment beg 8/1.  I worked extensively for 2 exec agencies & short while for 1 legis component of Congress totaling almost 38 yrs.  I submitted ret app pkg in early Nov including what HR would need to complete giving them specific data to make it speed it along.  I attached a redeposit form with evidence that it was corrected within first 5 months in first year of SCD, 1974, to avoid erroneous ret reduction and to avoid processing delay. No AWOL, no LWOP, no break, no WC, no mil serv, no disability, no foreign assignments, and no break in my continuous CSRS career. In early March I submitted my request of a change in my retirement date which was a matter of a couple of days later than my original request all in the same month of March.  Agency’s HR called the last days of my employment questioning they did not rec entire pkg.  I had to resend last emails to prove they had it.  You can bet members of Congress’ ret pkgs not only bump everyone else’s pending ret but should be the easiest to process.  If Congress didn’t invent FERS, in my opinion processing could have been faster for all since everyone would have been under CSRS.  I took my typing test at OPM E St in 1974 & visited again in 2009 to begin to obtain info.  No help.  Our agency conducted the first retirement seminar in the mid 1990s for those who met ret criteria.  More recently, our agency’s mgmt boomers must have initiated this 2nd seminar in 2010 that was extremely helpful.   I had already been educating myself with OPM’s & our agency’s online retirement calculators & extensive info.  My last 34 yrs was @ SSA where we have to process our claimant’s apps expeditiously and with accuracy.  Many boomers may leave in the next 12-24 months. Reinstate CSRS for all to help the future workers & government operations.  Work hard, educate yourself about your retirement, do the legwork yourself, and save for the lag period.

  12. Toos says:

    My wife retired a year ago and has yet to receive her completed paperwork.  I am paying estimated state taxes for her since I don’t have the proper paperwork from OPM.  This is despite multiple calls to her former agency.  Their advice?  Oh, they’ll (OPM) get to it by December.  I suppose December is not yet over, but somehow I expect with end of year use or lose leave, parties, etc. etc. she will still be going through the process next year, waiting for OPM to complete what should be a 10 second button push on a computer. Truly amazing.  And we think the Federal govt. can find ways to reduce costs if we hand over all health care to them. We all know otherwise if OPM is a guide.  I retire then end of this month, I can’t wait…..

  13. Cmebark says:

    I retired one year ago. They said they were waiting for some court documents on my divorce which I had previously sent. They were apparently lost so I sent another set through a Congressman’s office several weeks ago . Still, in talking the the answering service since you can’t talk to anyone in OPM, they say they are waiting for court documents. The Congressman’s office has called and they wont even return their calls.
     It’s bad enough they can’t get their act together, but what really pisses me off is I can’t find out ANYTHING!  They have my e-mail address as well as my mailing address, but I have heard nothing since my paperwork was submitted. I am not a mind reader so I don’t know if they want something else or not. The least they could do is communicate with you. When you do call Branch 4,5, or court documents their mailbox is either full or they say they will return the call, which never happens.

  14. Sherroddas says:

    I retired on Okinawa. My CPO was of no help at all.  Distant.  I did it all online and it soooo simple. I got paid within 30 days of my retirement. I received all my paperwork and information quickly. This is a simple process. If you are smart enough to figure out all the paperwork, then you will get paid fast and in time. No problem.

  15. MJH says:

    That’s a bunch of BS from OPM!  They took 7 months to get me the correct anuity amount, and guess what, it was exactly the same number that my agency had given me 8 months before they got around to calculating their number!  

  16. Former Army Civilian says:

    No everyone is upset with OPM. I retired at the end of September and received my interim pay in just 8 weeks. The amount was close to what the final determination will be. Thanks OPM: you got it right for me. I also think I helped myself in filling out the application correctly. No doubt some people didn’t do that and now they must wait.

  17. Fedbens says:

    “Why does it take so long…”?  There is one central, compelling reason.  It is the 800 lb. gorilla.


    Further, now that the FERS retirement system is maturing, there are more and more retirements each year calling for calculation of the annuity supplement.  In 2014, the first “wave” of FERS employees with 30 years FERS service will hit.  You think things are bad now?  Wait till then!


  18. Retired SSA Claims Rep says:

    I retired 12/3/2010.  Worked with my human resource person.  She gave me an itemized estimate within $3 of my final award.  It was explained to me that my application would be sent in the day after I retired.  It would be sent to Dept of Interior in Denver to verify my employment record.  I received a confirmation from DofI 15 days after my retirement.  I received my first interim check in mid January 2011.  On 2/1/11 I received second interim check.  The interim checks were paid at about 93% of my estimated net from HR.  On 4/19/2011 my application was processed.  OPM was great.  My Human Resource person was great. I retired under CSRS after 42 years, 28 of those years as a part time employee so my record was somewhat complicated.  Although not as complicated as military, civilian deposits, etc.  However after reading many of these comments it seems to me that your agency human resource people need training, not necessarily OPM employees.

  19. Guest says:

    Why all this animosity directed at OPM?? Just like you they are CS and are provided 4 hours a day to surf the web and play video games and social network. They also have jobs for life have 0 accountability a golden parachute for retirement and earn 0n avg 4125K a year.
    The type of treatment your receiving is EXACTLY what the taxpayers have to put up with day in and day out, welcome to their world

    • DOD retired and waiting says:

      I was told that the guy working my retirement claim for OPM is a contractor who works from home.  He has returned none of my calls and not answered e-mails from fellow OPM employees who have sent him e-mails in my behalf!

      • Guest says:

        Yea everyone at OPM works from home and its their way of trying to place the blame on someone else. If you noticed when Berry appeared before Congress he was armed with a demand for more $$$. He left dragging his tale , they told him he has sufficient resources and to fix his problem

    • Susan says:

      to lazyfed:  who are you?  You are bloggin on every site in Fedsmith.  You are so anti OPM and anti all government agencies and workers.  Federal workers are just like all workers in every business.  Most are hard working; very few are lazy.  i.e. you seem to have a very inflated opinion of what our years salary is.  Perhaps you should look up the salary scale on the OPM web site.

      • Guest says:

        I work for SSA and can assure that 60% of the CS work force isn’t necessary. As for a CS salary its well documented and it reflects your total lack of knowledge about CS pay and benefits.  I would have hated to have you be my contact person for SS no telling what kind of wives tale you would have spewed

        • James70094 says:

          No you don’t. You have stated that you work for different agencies in different posts. You don’t work for the government. You are just a loser who didn’t get that job you wanted.

      • PublicCitiZen says:

        He’s a retired USAF officer who has never worked as a civililian federal worker a day in his life.

        He likes to quote the 125K figure from CATO/Heritage over and over.  I’ve shown him the OPM website.  The facts from there get in the way of his opinions, so he ignores them.

    • srt says:

      You are completely ignorant of the facts.  This isn’t the first comment you’ve left on these boards that supports your ignorance on civil service.

      I challenge you to find one person at OPM who is making 412K a year, let alone one retirement application OPM is processing that comes close to that amount.

      You obviously have most civil servants confused with the congressman and senators you’re electing.

  20. jeepmanjr says:

    Partly the retirees fault?  Yeah, my fault for retiring!  I submitted my package 3.5 months BEFORE I retired.  Nothing was touched until weeks after that date.  My partner has been retired for SIX MONTHS…and still has not received his SS supplement.  There simply is NO excuse for this whatsoever!!  I have sent several emails to my retirement guru and have yet to get a reply.  So where do I go from here?  Just sit, wait and hope I suppose.  After 30 faithful years with the government this is how I’m rewarded.  The feds can’t take care of the simplest tasks…and we wonder why our country is as jacked up as it is.  FINALIZE MY RETIREMENT PACKAGE AND DEPOSIT MY FULL PENSION.  Do it now!!!

  21. Ben says:

    OPM claims the average processing time is ~133 days, but it seems that everyone I know who retired in the last 6 or 7 months or so is still waiting for the finalized statements.  I don’t understand why they don’t provide an accurate number.  They also should provide additional statistics.  What is the standard deviation for this “average.”  Even with a few errors, there shouldn’t be some people getting finalized months before others who retired at the same time.

    Also, retirees are in this “limbo” status while waiting – no state withholding, no allotments, and no ability to go to the retiree web services website and make withholding changes, allotment changes, etc.  No real estimate as to when this will end, and NO interest on the late payments (which they would have to pay to any commercial vendor that they were late paying).

  22. Defenseguy says:

    I live in a state with a bloated and confusing set of regulations plus under budget pressures yet somehow they get their retirements processed within a month. What gives?

  23. Bill2 says:

    I retired as a CSRS Air Traffic Controller in early November. I requested a retirement readout about 5-6 months before I retired, and I submitted my retirement paperwork 3 months before I retired. I rcvd. my first Interim Retirement annuity payment on December 12 (about 60% of my estimated annuity) and the OPM website shows that I’ll get my first regular interim payment on January 2nd (looks like the full 75%). Maybe getting the annuity readout beforehand helped since it was available for OPM’s use when they started my application, maybe it was Divine intervention…I don’t know. But WHATEVER the reason, I couldn’t be more pleased with OPM. They got the process started rapidly and I’ll be getting the full 75% interim annuity payment as promised. I worked with a controller who retired and he only rcvd a 20% payment until they completed his paperwork 10 months later! But it looks like they’re getting it figured out

  24. Spt-2 says:

    It’s been four months since I retired and I have been receiving 43% of the estimated monthly pension that I am expecting.  If OPM doesn’t finalize my pension in two months, then I will contact my congressman to see if he can help.  I hate to do this but I figure than six months is more than ample time to finalize the processing.  I’m a FERS retiree with 23 years of uninterrupted service.  I understand that the calcuation of my FERS annuity supplement may delay the final processing, but c’mon OPM, get you act together!  It can’t be that difficult.  I know that my former agency would not react kindly to the suggestion that they are responsible for the delay.     

  25. Guest says:

    Remember, this is the same government who brought you the staggering complexities of filing your taxes…… and how many pages is that ?

  26. SAL says:

    I retired on July 31, 2011 and received a reduced CSRS annuity for September and October and received my full annuity on November 1, 2011.  I had over 38 years of service at three agencies, one of which was the District Government.  I expected it would take longer based on the articles and comments from individuals who have been waiting for a long time.  I have no complaints about the processing of my retirement.  Not sure if CSRS retirees are experiencing the same delays that FERS retirees are facing.

  27. Sue says:

    If your retro is delayed, call the office of your congressional rep and ask the staff to use their influence to kick it loose. Social Secuity was able to process my retirement application while I sat in the office based on my earnings outside of government, but OPM needed over 9 months to pay my retro and that was only after the congressman’s office intervened. I wonder how much longer it would have been if I hadn’t marched into the congressman’s office.

  28. Guest 101 says:

    The government took away many of our local benefit specialists, with the few left doing the best they can.  However, there is no excuse for not automating further to eliminate errors.  I agree with the scapegoat theory.  There were well-in-advance predictions of baby boomer retiree numbers.   OPM may have their hands tied with government funding themselves, but let’s get on the ball and strategize options instead of the blame-game.  Enough!

  29. Rick Burton says:

    Here’s a novel idea. How about letting those feds with college degrees calcuate their own retirement using OPM provide forms. Then all the specialist has to do, is cross check the retirement forms. Those who don’t care to do this, can continue to do it the current way.  After all, many of us hold jobs with far higher responsibility than filling out retirement applications.  Kind of a no brainer to me.

    • Guest says:

      We’ve seen how this higher education has worked at Justice, Interior and Securities and stock exchange. Better we let Jethro Bodine handle them from home via telework

  30. Outraged HR Specialist says:

    I am one of those benefit specialists that this article is directed at.  We go to the annual benefits conference put on by OPM and there are complaints every year about how slow the process is.  We have even had OPM tell retirees their paperwork was incomplete when they got it, although we keep copies of every retirement package we send, and we know they are accurate and complete.  We have had disability retirements that weren’t approved until AFTER the employee died.  This is absolutely not acceptable and for OPM to be putting the blame on us is appalling.

    • Fedbens says:

      Amen.  I strongly believe the HR people at the employee’s agency do a good job for him, partly because they essentially work in the same organization as the employee, and partly because they are good at their jobs.