The Office of Personnel Management, for years stung with criticism of how quickly and how well it processes federal retirement applications, has sent guidance to agencies designed to head off common problems that lead to delays.

Although OPM traditionally has accepted its share of blame for processing times that can stretch many months—during which retirees receive only partial benefits that in some cases result in a financial hardship to them—it also always has said that errors and incomplete information in the applications forwarded to them by the employing agencies has contributed to the problem.

In its latest guidance, OPM described what is needed for what it called a "healthy" retirement application, which in many cases will result in agencies needing to work more closely with the retiring employees

OPM said that the retirement application "must be a complete, original form, signed by the applicant, in ink and dated." In addition, all questions must be answered, all applicable boxes checked and all areas requiring initials must be initialed. Some common areas with problems include:

* Survivor election in Section F of the SF 2801 or Section D of the SF 3107, must be indicated, regardless of whether the individual is married or not, an election must be selected

* If a married applicant elects less than the full survivor annuity, spousal consent must be provided and the election on the application must agree with the spousal consent

* The Court Order question 2 in Section E of the SF 2801 or Section C of the SF 3107 must be answered.

OPM also said that accompanying information needing special attention includes: all periods of creditable civilian and military service must be listed and military service must be documented on a Form DD-214; when a married applicant elects less than full survivor benefits, a spousal consent from must be submitted; additional documentation is needed if the employee is taking voluntary early retirement or discontinued service retirement; documentation of the employee’s FEHB status and eligibility to continue coverage into retirement – in particular, that the retiring employee meets the requirement of FEHB coverage for the five years before retirement — must be included; and similarly, proof of coverage under FEGLI for the prior five years must be included to remain eligible under that program.

The guidance is one of a multi-part strategy that OPM announced earlier this year to deal with retirement processing delays, which also includes adding more staff, process improvements, and IT improvements.