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A New Retirement Resource

OPM offers a five-step guide to the sometimes confusing retirement process. 

It’s great that the Office of Personnel Management has released a new quick guide to the federal retirement process, along with other updates to their website for federal employees who are planning to retire. The last attempt at explaining the process was way back in 1998, in a 109-page chapter of a handbook on the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System. And that chapter was written with agency retirement specialists in mind, not ordinary federal employees. 

Agencies, as part of their ongoing responsibility to provide employees with information about their benefits, are expected to make employees aware early in their careers about retirement issues, such as deposits for civilian and military service credit. The extent to which they do an effective job of explaining benefits has a direct impact on how smooth the retirement process is for employees. Federal workers who have attended my pre-retirement planning seminars have told me that some agencies do a better job than others. 

The retirement process is, on the surface, fairly straightforward. But all it takes is missing a few pages of documentation or forgetting to sign a document to throw the process off course. The newly released guide is only three pages long. But it includes some very important details about the retirement process and spells out the steps that employees must take along the way.

The new reference provides more transparency in the process of retirement by pointing out specific situations—such as having a having service with multiple federal agencies—that can significantly delay the process of finalizing your retirement claim. The guide breaks the process down into five steps, covering the period between an employee’s retirement date and their case being finalized with the deposit of their first regular monthly payment.

The steps in between highlight the role of employing agencies and their payroll providers, and then the OPM part of the process, after it receives a retirement application from an agency. That includes preparing interim (or partial) retirement payments. Then comes the full OPM processing, which can take 50-90 days.

The guide is written in a conversational tone, and is easy to follow. If it helps reduce employee and agency errors in filing retirement paperwork, says Lori Amos, OPM’s deputy associate director for retirement services, “our hope is that it will reduce the amount of time it takes to process retirement claims, and ultimately, a reduction in the backlog.” 

In addition to issuing the guide, OPM has revamped the process of communicating with its Retirement Information Office. Those who call the office at 888-767-6738 will be directed according to their specific situation and the information they seek. Current federal employees will be told to contact their agency’s human resources office. Retirees will be given five options to choose from: password assistance, tax information, reporting a death, insurance issues and all other inquiries. 

OPM also has made additional resources available online at its Retirement Services Support Center.

These improvements are nice, but they don’t create a fully electronic retirement claims process or solve all of the customer service issues that have plagued retirees when they attempt to contact OPM to inquire about their benefits. Hopefully, OPM will be able to tackle these much greater problems in the near future.