We are very much aware of the increasing processing times retirees and potential retirees have been experiencing. Individuals applying for retirement are dedicated Federal employees who have devoted their careers to serving the citizens of this country, and as such, they deserve treatment commensurate with their service.
The present situation is the result of the confluence of a number of factors. This includes the attempt to utilize an "off-the-shelf" private sector processing system, which ultimately was not successful. We tried to redesign all aspects of retirement processing simultaneously and anticipated that increased automation was the long-term solution. Accordingly, we assumed lower staffing levels would be required. As staff levels were reduced, the volume and complexity of retirement casework increased.
Our paramount goal is to improve the overall claims adjudication process. There is no simple or easy solution that is capable of instantly remedying the problem, but we are doing everything in our power to improve service to our annuitants as rapidly as possible within the constraint of available resources. We have begun several initiatives to not only speed up claims review but to streamline other attendant retirement procedures.
We hired 40 legal administrative specialists to assist with the current backlog and future workload.
We have also authorized additional overtime across the claims processing groups and will continue to approve overtime thru fiscal year 2011. Overtime is also being offered to former claims examiners to help tackle the backlog.
To assist the retiree's immediate financial needs, OPM established an interim pay process to provide new retirees with income while their retirement benefits are adjudicated. Retirees receive their first interim payment in 5-7 business days from the date the agency's electronic file or paper records are received by OPM.
OPM uses the information provided by the agencies (at the time the retirement application is submitted) to determine the amount of interim pay. In calculating the amount of the interim payment from the data provided by the agency, OPM:
- Determines the years and months of creditable Federal service
- Uses the retiree's final salary
- Accounts for any survivor election
- Applies a reduction for age if appropriate
- Reduces the amount of interim payment to cover premiums for any insurance elections.
Our goal is to provide the annuitant with as much of their expected NET monthly payment, less Federal income tax withholding. The NET payment amount is the amount of the annuity payment after deducting premiums for health benefits and life insurance from the gross rate. Some retirees receive less than our goal due to a variety of factors. Some of the conditions that could cause the annuitant to receive less than the agency's NET estimate are: a FERS annuity supplement, unpaid service credit deposits, redeposits or military deposits, a court order on file at OPM, or the retiree is entitled to a special computation as a Law Enforcement Officer, Fire Fighter, Air Traffic Controller or other special retirement group.
In December, we increased all Department of Defense civilian retiree interim payments by 5%. This will affect 29% of the cases. These cases had been receiving a lower than average amount of interim pay based upon the data received at the time of retirement. Additional system changes are in process to provide a 5% increase for certain retirees of the United States Postal Service.
OPM is currently working with agencies to improve timeliness and quality of personnel/payroll information submissions. Indeed, OPM's Strategic Plan speaks to the shared responsibility for retirement processing among employees, agencies and OPM so resolving these issues is at the very center of the radar screen. Incomplete or inaccurate information from agencies can significantly delay processing and ultimately, a retiree's check. Unfortunately, 23 percent of all claims received are missing one or more records and 11 percent are not received during the first 30 days.
We are confident that through additional staff, over-time, improvements in interim payments, and collaboration with agencies we will reduce our back-log to more normal levels and fulfill our commitments to the Federal retiree, which has always been one of our highest priorities.