Expert's View

There are times when you are having a problem with the Office of Personnel Management and don’t know if it would be a good idea for you to get someone involved on your behalf. Well, like most things in life, it all depends. When I talk about problems, I mean such things as getting an answer to a disputed health benefits claim, finding out when you’ll be getting your first annuity payment when you’ve been retired for months, or resolving an issue about whether you didn’t receive an overpayment or underpayment.

By and large the case processing system works. Cases come in and they get handled in a timely manner. However, depending on workload and staff availability, even an efficient system can bog down, and, rarely, a case can get lost. Unacceptably long delays can cause one’s blood pressure to rise and patience to wear thin. That’s when employees and retirees start thinking about getting someone to intervene.


If you have already been in touch with a case worker and gotten a convincing reply about why your case has been delayed or, better still, a date on which you can expect answer, I recommend that you be patient. However, if nothing happens, even with repeated calls or letters, it may be time to escalate the matter above the case worker level.

Stage one is to write to the head of the organization. For retirement and insurance matters that would be Kathleen McGettigan, Deputy Associate Director, Center for Retirement and Insurance Services, OPM, 1900 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20415. Your letter will initiate an inquiry on your behalf that should soon result in a resolution to the matter. If it doesn’t do that in a reasonable amount of time, go to stage two. Write the head of OPM. The fact that the current Director, Kay Coles James, has just left office won’t affect anything. Just write to Director, OPM, at the above address. Agency heads – even acting ones – expect an even faster response from staff than that required by the organization’s top manager. It’s extremely rare than any matter needs to be pursued beyond this level.

Of course, you can write to your member of Congress and ask him or her to carry the ball for you. From long experience, I can tell you that this rarely results in faster results than staying within the OPM’s own system. In general, congressional inquiries only create an additional layer of paperwork that needs to be cleared away before providing you with an answer.

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when writing a Member could be productive. In this category I’d put matters of law or regulation that you believe ought to be changed, for example, increases or adjustments to health, life insurance, leave benefits, etc.