A New Guide to the Retirement Process Could Help Feds Avoid Pitfalls, Manage Expectations
OPM's new three-page guide to the federal retirement process will be updated on a monthly basis to reflect anticipated wait times for federal retirees to begin receiving their annuity payments.
Office of Personnel Management officials hope a new document for federal employees planning their retirement will reduce frustration with the complicated and often lengthy process—and maybe help reduce the agency’s backlog as well.
OPM on Monday published a new three-page guide to navigating the three- to five-month period between when a federal employee retires and when they begin receiving their full defined benefit annuity through the Federal Employee Retirement System or the Civil Service Retirement System. The document includes a breakdown of what agencies are responsible for which phase of the process, as well as a checklist of items feds can take to ensure their retirement claim is processed as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The backlog of pending retirement claims has long been a sore point for the federal government’s HR agency, an issue that was temporarily exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic since much of the process remains primarily paper-based. At the end of April, the backlog of pending claims sat at 20,384, above the goal to have a steady state of 13,000 pending claims in any given month but well below the backlog’s peak of 36,349.
Lori Amos, OPM’s deputy associate director for retirement services, said that as her agency works on long-term changes to the retirement process to accelerate the process, such as digitization, the guide serves as an effort to “improve the customer experience” and help federal workers avoid common pitfalls that can elongate the processing time.
“Our goal here is to give retirees info about the voluntary retirement process, and we want it to be at their fingertips,” she said. “Using these three pages, our hope is that it will reduce the amount of time it takes to process retirement claims, and ultimately, a reduction in the backlog.”
The guide recommends that federal workers preparing to retire should ensure they sign all the forms required to retire, electronically if possible, as well as to download their personnel records from their agency. And it includes a list of supplemental documents that are often required to process a retirement claim, such as marriage certificates, military service records and court orders such as divorce records, if necessary.
“The first thing we encounter [that delays the process] is missing signatures—we just have to have the signatures,” Amos said. “The other common error is downloading their personnel records. If you’ve worked for multiple agencies, we have to have an individual retirement record [for each agency], and that prolongs the process if it’s not included. If you served in the military and buy into [the retirement system] for that time, if that time is not paid in full, we find that error occasionally.”
Amos said the guide shows a timeline of the process to help feds to understand how various parties are involved in helping a federal worker retire. The timeline will be updated each month based on OPM’s monthly reporting of retirement backlog statistics, she said.
“What I’m hopeful for is now we have connected the dots between the three primary leads in this process,” she said. “It’s the agency, it’s the employee, and it’s OPM. When we started this project, we could tell based on our research that employees really—some, not all—didn’t know what was involved in this process. They trust their agency yes, and that’s great, and they work with their agency, but by the time we were getting applications, we recognized the need for federal employees planning for retirement—this is info that they need to know before submitting the application.”
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