In a letter from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the panel is asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to consider ways OPM can improve federal retirement claims processing. The average time for a processed claim in more than 60 days is 100 days. Since March 2016, OPM has reported a decline in the percentage of claims processed in 60 days or less. In September 2016, it was 64 percent.
The House panel also wants agencies investigated to see if anything can be done at that level. They found that there were high error rates on retirement applications from the Social Security Administration, Department of Veteran Affairs, Department of the Interior, and the Department of Agriculture. The panel believes that the error rates merit attention from GAO.
In the letter to GAO, the house panel wants several factors investigated.
- How is OPM instructing agencies to save and file employees’ information so it can be easily accessible? Are the agencies following that?
- They also asked GAO to find out why certain agencies have a high error rate on their employee retirement applications.
- Research whether there is more that OPM, Congress, agencies, and employees can do to speed up the claims process.
At one time in 2008, OPM started to develop and launch a computer software that would process applications electronically. The idea behind the software was to provide federal retirees with their full annuity payment on their first payment. The current process doesn’t allow for this very easily. There is a period of reduced interim payments until the claim has been fully processed, which can be months. Shortly after however, the canceled the program to save money and returned to their manual paper process. Since that time, there has been a consistent backlog of applications. Per OPM, their solution is to hire more specialists to process the applications.
A statement in the letter reads, “While OPM continues to study how to best modernize retirement processing, it is critical that OPM ensures the current paper system is efficiently meeting the needs of retiring federal workers.” A consistent backlog would suggest that the current manual paper processing system is not doing this very well.
Historically, retirement claims rise in January. It will be interesting to see if GAO will take action in response to this letter and if it will be sooner rather than later.