IG: Customer Service Problems Plague OPM’s Retirement Services

By on October 28, 2016 in Retirement with 0 Comments

Image of 3d person trying to field multiple phone calls

A recent report from the Office of Personnel Management Inspector General found that the agency’s Retirement Services division is not living up to its goals in servicing correspondence from retired federal employees.

The report notes several key findings, one of which is that OPM’s Retirement Services is consistently not meeting its goal of responding to inquiries within 60 days. The table below from the report highlights the average processing time for inquiries, none of which are under 60 days.

Retirement Services’ Processing Times for the Retirement Information Office’s Escalations, Faxes, Postal Mail

Method Beginning Balance Total Receipts Total Processed Ending Balance Processing Time (Days)
As of 4/2/16
Controlled Correspondence 4111 263 910 3465 72
Faxes (500) 543 457 721 279 67
Mail Read 5518 3187 3287 5418 122
As of 5/7/16
Controlled Correspondence 3883 234 320 3797 92
Faxes (500) 566 393 390 569 72
Mail Read 927 3744 4097 574 80

Retirement Services also consistently fails to respond to all written correspondence, legal administrative specialists are not responsive to voice mails, and annuitants are having to make multiple attempts to contact the office to get responses. The report says that 53% of legal administrative specialists were not responsive to voice mails and 38% had mailboxes that were full so no message could be left.

The report also found that many calls to Retirement Services are abandoned. In FY 2015, the office received 1.9 million calls from annuitants, but roughly 500,000 of them were abandoned.

The report goes on to say that collectively, all of these problems are impacting customer satisfaction. The latest results (FY 2015) from Retirement Services’ annual customer satisfaction survey show that 66% of respondents were satisfied with the amount of time it took to respond to their written correspondence, a 5% decline from the year before. Also, 21% of respondents were dissatisfied with the timeliness of getting problems solved.

The report recommends that Retirement Services establish written policies and procedures for legal administrative specialists to handle annuitants’ phone inquiries including guidelines that ensure legal administrative specialists are retrieving voice messages regularly and returning calls within a specified timeframe.

The report also said that specialists need to retrieve their voice mail regularly and return calls more promptly so their voice mailboxes don’t get full.

Another recommendation was to add more resources so that the backlog of written correspondences can be addressed.

The latter suggestion is one that OPM has been advocating for dealing with its retirement applications backlog for years.

After a failed attempt to develop software to automate processing federal employees’ retirement applications, the agency said it was going to hire more people to manually process the applications (see Back to the Future: OPM and the Federal Employee Retirement Tsunami).

Earlier this year, acting OPM director Beth Cobert said the agency needed more money to deal with the growing backlog of retirement applications that keep piling up.

“At OPM, we are consistently working to improve the quality of this experience for our customers. The President’s budget provides additional funding to help us decrease the amount of time a customer has to wait to talk to a representative or get a response to their email. And, the added resources will help us reduce the time it takes to process a retirement claim,” said Cobert.

As of last count, OPM’s backlog of retirement claims stood at just over 15,000. Since October 2014 (the oldest available data from OPM’s latest report), the backlog has never been under 10,000. It also normally increases substantially in January and February with a new wave of retiring federal employees who leave after the first of the year.

The IG report said of its recommendation to “allocate additional resources” to fix the backlog problems, “The allocation of additional resources should decrease the backlog. Our office does not consider the hiring of 42 customer service specialists as addressing this recommendation if those specialists are not allocated to reducing the backlog of written correspondence.”

A copy of the Inspector General’s report is included below.

Evaluation of Retirement Services’ Customer Service Function

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

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce. Ian also has a background in web development and does the technical work for the FedSmith.com web site and its sibling sites.

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