In an attempt to speed up the process of finalizing retirement applications, the Office of Personnel Management recently issued a “Benefits Administration Letter” on submitting “healthy” retirement packages. We will not point fingers and assess blame on why retirement applications are taking 5 (CSRS) to 7 (FERS) months to finalize, enough fingers have been pointed in the past. (See also The OPM Retirement Processing Backlog; Processing Time for Calculating Annuities is Getting Worse: Is it OPM’s Increasing Workload?, Berry to Congress: Annuity Processing Backlog is Bad, Will Get Worse)
OPM’s stated goal is “…to eliminate the backlog of retirement claims to be processed and ultimately, to process 90 percent of all new claims within 60 days of receipt.” This means that the word “quick” means “two months” to OPM. This 60 day standard is close to the time it took to finalize retirements before the current long delays became the norm.
I don not think that OPM will ever process and finalize applications for federal retirement with the speed that Social Security will finalize your application for Social Security retirement benefits. This is due, in large part, to how confusing the federal retirement system has become. Given the propensity of Congress to make all changes to retirement rules prospective and grandfather in current employees, I see federal retirement becoming more, rather than less, confusing as (or if) future changes are made.
OPM plans to segregate “healthy” retirement cases from those cases that need further development. This should allow a much quicker (e.g., 60 day) processing time for the cases that are deemed “healthy”, with cases that need further development taking a longer time to be finalized. So, what does OPM mean by “healthy”? They mean a package that is complete and accurate; a case where additional information is not needed.
Areas that frequently need further development (e.g., need more information) are:
- Survivor elections
- Even non-married retirees have to make a choice on the application form;
- Lack of spousal consent for “less than full” survivor elections;
- Spousal and notary signatures must be on the same day; and
- The question regarding court orders must be answered.
- Special types of retirement
- If an employee is retiring under a VERA, the OPM authority number must be included; and
- Agency certification letters are required for Air Traffic Controllers, Law Enforcement Officers, Firefighters; Nuclear Material Carriers, and Customs and Border Protection Officers.
- Failure to document 5 years of coverage under FEHBP. According to OPM, this is the most common error.
- Failure to document 5 years of coverage under FEGLI.
- Lack of form DD-214 to document military service.
- Undocumented previous service (e.g., temp time, etc.).
There is likely to be a new area that will cause problems in FERS applications over the next few months. OPM revised the Form 3107 (the application for retirement under FERS) in May, and previous editions of the form are not usable. All retirement applications submitted after September 30, 2012 must use the new form. OPM sent a reminder email about the new form to all subscribers to their “benefitsinfo” listserv on Friday, September 7th.
Some of the above items can be remedied by prospective retirees carefully completing the application forms and seeking clarification from their HR offices if needed. Others can be remedied by agency HR offices paying more attention to the applications that are submitted. An employee planning to retire can help matters along by submitting their retirement application far enough in advance that the HR office can have as complete an application package as possible to submit to OPM
Though we can affect the prompt processing of our retirement by taking certain actions, the burden is on OPM to promptly process packages; after all, the problem of late processing of retirements did not occur overnight and was not the fault of those who retired.
John Grobe’s latest book, The Answer Book on Your Federal Employee Benefits, has just been released by LRP Publications. The book is written in an easy to understand question and answer format and covers all areas of federal benefits from the perspective of an employee at various stages of their career. Order your copy at shoplrp.com.