Federal Daily News
No 'easy solution' for retirement processing backlog, OPM tells Senate subcommittee
A Senate panel this week heard from the federal government’s top human resources official as it took a closer look at delays in the processing of nearly 50,000 backlogged federal retirement claims. The hearing took place on Feb. 1 before the Governmental Affairs Committee’s federal workforce subcommittee.
In testimony before the subcommittee, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said that while there is “no simple or easy solution” that will “instantly” fix the problem, the agency “is doing everything in its power to improve service to our future annuitants as rapidly as possible within the constraint of available resources.”
At the same time, Berry called the current delays “unacceptable,” and said that addressing the backlog is his highest priority this year. He said OPM has set a goal to wipe out the current backlog in 18 months, as well as set an objective of being able to provide new retirees with their full annuity payments within 60 days of retirement by July 2013, “in all but the most complex cases.”
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), subcommittee chairman, blamed much of the claims backlog on failed IT contracts.
“OPM reduced its retirement staff significantly through attrition from 2005 to 2009 in anticipation of an automated system that never materialized,” Akaka said. “The result is a backlog of over 48,000 claims that the agency is struggling to address.”
But ramping up technology was only one of four “central pillars” of an OPM plan that Berry outlined for the panel to fix the problem—“people; productivity and process improvement; partnering with agencies; and partial, progressive information technology (IT) improvements.”
In the near-term, Berry said, OPM is hiring 56 additional legal administrative specialists to process existing claims. Other measures for speeding up processing, Berry said, include immediately ramping up capacity through more effective use of overtime, and expanding work hours to accommodate a wider range of availability of workers.
But Berry said one of the most important factors that will drive future progress on the issue is “improving the accuracy and responsiveness of the agencies and the records submitted to OPM for processing.”
Berry said OPM audits of agency applications have produced results that are “troubling,” and noted that while OPM tries to address those concerns through follow-up training, “agency leadership must be held accountable for sending OPM complete and quality retirement applications.”