About That OPM Retirement Processing Backlog…

A number of readers have asked about the backlog in processing retirement applications. OPM is making progress. The time it takes to process a retirement action has improved by about 15%. The agency’s goal is to get the processing time down to 45 days.

The Office of Personnel Management is making progress on reducing the backlog in finalizing retirement applications. The time it takes to process a retirement action has improved by roughly 15%. It took 138 days to complete the processing of a retirement action in August 2010 and it takes 117 days now. Bill Zielinski, Associate Director for Retirement Services for OPM stated in an interview on Wednesday, April 20th, that the goal is to get the processing time down to 45 days.

Yes, I know that 117 days is a far cry from 45 days and doesn’t represent much of an improvement from the 138 day timeframe of last August. However, there are several things that make Zielinski’s 45-day goal realistic as opposed to a pie-in-the-sky dream.

Of the 43,000 retirement claims that are waiting to be finalized, 70% are 90 days or less old. This shows that progress is being made with the oldest cases.

The current balance of claims is still affected by the end-of-year retirement rush. Zielinski stated that January to March is the busiest time of the year for retirement processing. Late December or early January is often considered the “best” time of the year to retire by those who are hoping to cash in a large annual leave balance. (See The Best Date to Retire in 2011) This means that, as retirement actions are finalized and removed from inventory, there will not be an equal number of new retirements replacing them in the pipeline (at least not until December).

The 40 additional retirement claims examiners that were recently hired are not yet fully trained (take it from me, as confusing as federal retirement can be, it takes a while to develop the knowledge to handle retirement processing). When they are fully trained and are handling retirement actions, they should be able to make a serious dent in the processing backlog by the time of the December 2011 retirement rush.

One item that will make prospective retirees happy once it is implemented is the fact that OPM will be making changes designed increase the amount of “interim pay” that retirees receive between the time they have retired and when their annuity is finalized. One constant among retiree comments to OPM is that they want to receive close to 100% of their estimated retirement pay as interim pay.

Other upcoming improvements mentioned by Zielinski in the interview were:

  • Improving the OPM website
    and the “Retirement Information Center”.
  • Changing the retirement
    services on-line option so that individuals whose cases are pending can
    log on to find out the status of their retirement processing, find out who
    is in charge of their individual retirement case, and print verification
    letters if needed. Currently, only
    those whose retirements have been approved can use services on-line.
  • OPM is currently
    coordinating with DOD on the effect of the next round of BRAC closings,
    and with USPS on current and future downsizings, so that any rush of
    retirements caused by these actions can be quickly processed.

We will not see drastic improvements immediately but, if OPM’s actions are successful, the current long delays in finalizing employee retirements will become history.

Agencies can request to have John Grobe, or another of Federal Career Experts' qualified instructors, deliver a retirement or transition seminar to their employees. FCE instructors are not financial advisers and will not sell or recommend financial products to class participants. Agency Benefits Officers can contact John Grobe at johnfgrobe@comcast.net to discuss schedules and costs.

About the Author

John Grobe is President of Federal Career Experts, a firm that provides pre-retirement training and seminars to a wide variety of federal agencies. FCE’s instructors are all retired federal retirement specialists who educate class participants on the ins and outs of federal retirement and benefits; there is never an attempt to influence participants to invest a certain way, or to purchase any financial products. John and FCE specialize in retirement for special category employees, such as law enforcement officers.