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Retirement Backlog Creeps Up, Justice Backtracks on Link Between OPM Hack and Fraud Case

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The number of pending federal employee retirement claims ticked up slightly last month, as the Office of Personnel Management increased its processing to meet the higher demand.

According to statistics released last week, the retirement backlog increased by less than 200 claims in June to 18,198, up from 18,024. But the number of new claims received jumped from 7,625 in May to 9,397 last month.

That total marks a significant increase over the same period in 2017, when OPM received only 6,141 new retirement requests. Last month, the agency processed 9,223 claims, up from 7,090 in May.

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Although OPM mostly kept pace with demand, the influx of new claims has increased the agency’s monthly average processing time from 58 days in May to 65 last month.

On Monday, the Justice Department confirmed that it spoke too soon when a press release announcing a guilty plea in an identity fraud case suggested the defendants had used data from the 2015 OPM hack.

In a letter to Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who inquired about the basis for the connection, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said that investigators have not yet determined how the personal information of victims of the crime was obtained. The fraudsters applied for car loans in victims’ names.

“A number of the victims of this scheme identified themselves to the Department of Justice as victims of the OPM data breach,” Boyd wrote. “However, at present, the investigation has not determined precisely how their identity information used in this case was obtained and whether it can, in fact, be sourced directly to the OPM data breach. Because the victims in this case had other things in common in terms of employment and location, it is possible that their data came from another common source.”

Boyd wrote that the initial press release announcing the guilty pleas “implied a premature conclusion” about the source of the data. Since then, the federal prosecutor’s office reviewed the case and corrected the error in a subsequent release.

On Thursday, OPM will file a rule phasing out language that provided the children of same sex couples who could not be legally married access to federal employee insurance programs, in light of the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage across the country.

In 2013, OPM issued regulations granting children of same sex domestic partners access to insurance coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program, an effort to provide equitable benefits for such couples living in states that did not yet legalize same sex marriage.

More than a year after the decision, OPM rolled back that coverage, but provided an exception for federal employees working overseas, which runs until Sept. 30, 2018.

“OPM recognized that there were additional requirements placed on overseas federal employees that did not apply to other civilian employees with duty stations in the United States, making it difficult to travel to the United States to marry their same sex partners,” the agency wrote.

Beginning Sept. 30, the new rule takes effect, and removes the temporary exception from federal regulations.

“Based on the Supreme Court decision and the two additional years’ lead time for domestic partners overseas to marry, the current language . . . is not needed and may be somewhat confusing,” OPM wrote. “There is no change in coverage for children whose same-sex partners are married.”

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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