Reg Jones Expert's View

There’s a new skipper at the helm of the good ship OPM – Linda Springer. She has established a series of goals, one of which should gladden the hearts of every employee who is looking forward to retirement. By October 1 of this year she wants the initial retirement calculations for 90 percent of the retiring workforce to be processed within 30 days of the date on which they retire. That’s a noble goal. It will also be a tough one to meet.

While Springer may be able to work wonders with her own workforce, she will have no control over the agencies from which those retirement papers come. Even such influence as she might have will wash up against some hard facts. A retirement application doesn’t just pass from a retiree’s hands to OPM, it has a number of stops along the way.

In the past, agencies have been asked to get a retiree’s paperwork to OPM within 30 days, but they have often failed to meet that standard. Even a well-staffed and efficient personnel office can have problems meeting it. Among other things, they have to certify your FEGLI coverage to OPM, along with any current designations of beneficiaries, process the action needed to separate you from the federal service, and complete and certify the personnel portion of your retirement application. Then they pass the package along to payroll, which, among other things, authorizes your final salary payment after you separate for retirement, calculates any lump-sum payment for unused annual leave, certifies and closes out your individual retirement record. That record can’t be closed out until your final salary check has been issued.

So you see, a lot has to take place at your agency before they can send a retirement package to OPM. And their problem in getting it out swiftly will be hampered because of staff shortages, a glut of paperwork flowing from early-out offers, buyouts and end-of-year departures, and/or retirees who have left everything to the last minute and whose paperwork is a mare’s nest.

Any or all of these agency-based impediments will shorten the time that OPM has available to complete the processing of a retirement case and get you on the annuity roll. Until Springer spoke, OPM’s standard for completing the adjudication of a fully documented claim was 45 days, more if the case file was a mess.

So, my hat is off to you, Director Springer. You’ve set a goal that deserves to be met. But as one who has had first-hand knowledge of how much time and work it takes to process retirement applications from start to finish, I’ll save the applause until later.