Expert's View

I’ve written frequently about the three players involved in assuring that you can transition smoothly from employment to retirement. Those players are you, your agency, and the Office of Personnel Management. In the bad old days, the two players who caused the most problems were you and your agency. You because you didn’t take the time to review your records well in advance of retirement and make sure that they were in order. And your agency because it did a poor job of processing your retirement application and took ages to get the material to OPM. While some of those problems still remain, it’s OPM that has recently been the stumbling block to efficient case processing. And that had led to more than a few delayed and sometimes inaccurate initial annuity payments.

The reasons behind the problem are ones that all federal employees will be familiar with. More cases than the staff can handle and a paper-based records system. In more tranquil times, case workloads were steadier than they are today, when employees rush en masse to take advantage of early retirement opportunities and buyouts. And staffing levels at OPM never seem to match what a reasonable person would judge necessary to carry out an essential function of government. Administrations come and go, but whether Republican or Democrat, they like to see the employment numbers at less favored agencies remain static or go down, not up.

ADVERTISEMENT

Then there’s the antiquated nature of OPM’s records system. And I can testify from personal knowledge that the fault there does not lie with OPM. They were well on their way to developing an automated system that would have allowed agencies to provide accurate annuity estimates to their employees on a real time basis. In turn this would have dramatically speeded up case processing at OPM and the delivery of annuity payments. However, this well-designed project fell to the ministrations of non-OPM cost-cutters and is only now being revived.

The good news is that there is a new director of OPM. Linda Springer knows that this is a problem that needs to be fixed. Let’s hope that the spotlight now being focused on that problem brings improvements – quickly. In the meantime, as a potential retiree, you need to begin preparing for retirement at least a year in advance. That way you won’t be the cause of any delays.