Reg Jones Expert's View

Last week I wrote about one of the goals that OPM Director Linda Springer had set for her agency: by October 1 of this year, to process 90 percent of retirement applications within 30 days. This time I want to talk about a related goal of hers: to develop a pilot program this year to eliminate partial payments to retirees.

Partial payments? Yeah. For years, OPM has put retirees in partial pay status while they finish adjudicating their cases. Usually, the payment is between 85 and 95 percent of the regular monthly payment, after deductions for such things as health insurance. The practice was instituted to avoid the possibility of overpayments. This had been a real problem, caused in no small measure by the sheer complexity of the laws governing retirement benefits. Please believe me when I tell you that there are rules, exceptions to the rules, and variations on the exceptions, none of them dreamed up by OPM or its predecessor, the Civil Service Commission. All of these strange twists and turns were created by Congress.

Anyhow, having to return overpayments was a lot more painful for retirees than receiving less than a full annuity for a few months. It also allowed the checks to go out after a quick review of each case, leaving more time for a careful final review.

Now that Springer has decided to institute a 30-day rule for processing claims and to test the feasibility of making the correct annuity payment, too, it remains to be seen whether the two can be accomplished.

Last time I pointed out the difficulties that OPM will face trying to get agencies to forward retirement cases to OPM for review within 30 days. Eliminating partial payments will also require that those cases come from agencies in squeaky clean condition. For example, no more missing or conflicting pieces of paper. No more dates that don’t jibe. It will also require that OPM staff be better trained than ever and that they have the best equipment loaded with the best software available. Otherwise . . .