Continued reliance on manual processes, lack of staff and incomplete information on applications continue to hamper OPM’s processing of retirement benefit applications even though the agency has made some improvements in recent years, GAO has said.
Its report is the latest on a long-running issue: many retirees don’t receive full retirement benefits for a number of months after retirement—some for much longer—and in the meantime, they only receive partial payments which can be far below their entitlement.
GAO credited OPM with having a strategic plan for modernizing the process, including developing an electronic application form and an electronic system to store retirement information. “However, OPM was unable to provide estimated time frames or costs for the initiatives,” it said, noting that several past modernization efforts “were fraught with information technology management weaknesses.”
OPM also has added staff and increased overtime but “generally does not assess the effectiveness of these actions or whether they reduce delays,” GAO said, and while OPM tells employing agencies when it needs further information to finish processing an application, officials from four agencies “reported that aspects of the error reports were not user-friendly.”
Between 2014 and 2017, OPM’s goal was to process 90 percent of applications within 60 days, a goal it never met during those years, ranging from 57 to 79 percent. Starting in fiscal 2018 its goal has been to process all applications within an average of 60 days, which it achieved 12 of the first 20 months of reporting under that standard.
GAO added that 31.6 percent of current federal employees will be eligible to retire within the next five years (at any one time about 15 percent of the workforce is retirement-eligible). Rates are highest at HUD, EPA, NASA, SBA, Treasury and NRC, from 44.9 down to 41.7 percent, while lowest at DHS, OPM, SSA, State and DoD, from 26.5 up to 29.8 percent.