The busiest time of the year for retirement claims processing at the Office of Personnel Management is fast approaching. At the end of November, OPM had an inventory of 19,162 unprocessed retirement applications. This will most likely significantly increase over the next few months, because many federal employees plan their retirements at the end of the year in order to maximize their lump sum payout of unused annual leave.
The spike in end-of-leave-year retirements presents a number of challenges for retirement processing. According to a recent OPM inspector general report, the timely processing of initial retirement payments remains a challenge for the agency. OPM’s 2018-2022 strategic plan sets a target of achieving an average case processing time of 60 days or less. The agency’s Retirement Services unit appears to have met that goal in fiscal 2018, with an average of 59 days. But its claims backlog as of September was 17,628, more than 4.5 percent higher than at the same time a year ago.
According to the IG report, the steps Retirement Services is taking to address delays in processing include:
- Continue to integrate improvements for correspondence and claims processing.
- Enhance reporting tools to monitor and address Retirement Services workloads.
- Use overtime to assist with timely processing.
- Work with the agency’s chief information officer to explore new uses of technology to help improve processing and reduce wait times.
- Provide monthly feedback to agencies and payroll offices and alert them of trends and improvement opportunities.
- Identify training needs for agencies and conduct workshops on the retirement application process.
Once your retirement application is in the hands of OPM, there’s not much you can do but wait. But there are steps you can take beforehand to help ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible:
- Double-check your application to make sure you’ve answered all of the questions on it. Complete your application electronically, if possible. OPM will not accept corrections in certain sections of the application form.
- Keep a copy of your completed application.
- Be sure to complete the Marital Information and Annuity Election sections of the application. That applies whether you’re married, single, widowed or divorced. If you’re married, be sure to include a copy of your marriage certificate with your application. If you’re divorced, you only need to include a copy of your court order or divorce decree if there was a portion of your retirement or survivor annuity awarded to your former spouse.
- If you’re married and your spouse is waiving their right to the maximum spousal survivor annuity, be sure to have their signature notarized on the Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election portion of the application.
- If you’ve performed active duty military service, be sure you’ve included the documentation of your service and information related to military retired pay in Schedules A and B of the application.
- Be sure to document that you’ve had five years of coverage under Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, especially if you were covered under your spouse’s FEHBP plan or you’re using coverage under TRICARE within five years of your retirement. According to an OPM training video, 20 percent of all retirement errors involve not documenting five years of FEHBP coverage.
For those of you who will be retiring from federal service in the next few weeks, let me be among the first to congratulate you and wish you a wonderful and rewarding life after government.