Retirement & Financial Planning Report

A recent budget document from OPM sets goals for processing of benefit applications for new retirees and for retirement-related customer service, two areas of longstanding criticisms of the agency.

The report discloses that after meeting its goal of processing retirement applications on average in 60 days in both 2015 and 2016–averaging 56 and 54 days, respectively–performance slipped in 2017 to a 67 day average. The goal for 2018 remains 60 days, OPM said, adding that it processed 77.1 percent of the retirement cases within 60 days or less. Those cases were processed in 45 days, on average. Cases requiring more than 60 days took 100 days, on average.

That time counts only the days an application spends at OPM before a final determination on benefits is made. Agencies typically don’t forward applications to OPM for several weeks, if not longer, after an employee’s last work day.

Regarding customer service, OPM set a goal of answering calls within 12 minutes on average in 2018 and 5 minutes in 2019. That would be a substantial improvement from the nearly 18-minute average of 2017; in 2015 and 2016 it was about 16 and 24 minutes, respectively. To meet that goal, OPM said it has hired 43 additional customer service specialists and 15 additional legal administrative specialists.

OPM meanwhile said it continues to focus on improper payments, which in percentage terms are only 1 percent–but that is out of $82 billion annually. “OPM’s recapture rate for improper payments has improved from 67.2 percent in FY 2013 to 78 percent in FY 2016, and the agency recovered funds amounting to $106.6 million,” it added. (Note: Improper payments, as the government uses the term for this purpose, is not limited to overpayments; they also include underpayments and payments that are correct but that were not fully documented.)

It pointed to a number of annual surveys it conducts to find potential ineligible recipients and said it is working to better coordinate with the Labor Department, which runs the FECA injury compensation program, to identify persons drawing both that benefit and disability retirement–those eligible for both may collect only from one.