OPM Director John Berry says additional employees have been assigned to cut down the backlog of incomplete annuities. (Staff)
The Office of Personnel Management last month hired 40 legal administrative specialists to help it get new federal retirees their complete annuities faster. But at least one group representing federal employees is losing patience.
National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) officials said in an interview Friday that many of its members are facing financial hardships because they're not getting the pensions they were promised. Like tens of thousands of other new federal retirees, they wait for months while OPM calculates their correct pensions. In the meantime, they receive interim payments that are sometimes half of what they are owed.
Ernie Kirkland, NALC's director of retired members, said the number of calls the union receives asking for help has increased sharply in recent months.
NALC first wrote to OPM about the problems its members are facing in October, after a Federal Times story detailed the problem with incomplete annuities.
In a March 8 letter to NALC, OPM Director John Berry said the additional employees being assigned to the workload should cut down the backlog of incomplete annuities, which was about 36,000 in January. Berry pledged to hire 40 more staffers last October.
In his letter, Berry said OPM will keep paying claims processors overtime for the rest of this fiscal year. He also said OPM increased interim payments for all Defense Department civilian retirees by 5 percent in December. Those Defense civilian retirees — who make up about 29 percent of the affected population — had been receiving lower-than-average interim payments, Berry said, though he did not say why or how much lower. Berry also said OPM is working on additional changes that will bump up interim payments for some U.S. Postal Service retirees by 5 percent. He did not say how many.
OPM also plans to keep working with agencies to improve their speed and accuracy when they send OPM personnel data on retiring employees. Berry said 23 percent of all claims received are missing one or more records, and 11 percent of claims are not received during the first 30 days.
Kirkland thinks annual increase in new retirees in the first three months of the year has swamped OPM and derailed any progress in reducing the backlog. He is skeptical that OPM's 40 new employees will soon be able to help, and said it could take months for them to get up to speed.
And a 5 percent increase in interim annuities isn't much progress, even if it is extended to postal retirees, Kirkland said. NALC wants OPM to give retirees their entire estimated pension right away, and then subtract any possible overpayments from future checks once the correct amount is calculated.
"Five percent of $500 is a long way from the $1,178 they already owe them," Kirkland said, citing a hypothetical partial payment.
NALC is considering asking lawmakers to look into the problem. Kirkland is afraid that OPM will let the annuity issue slide if the spotlight fades.
"We've got to figure out a way to keep the heat on them," Kirkland said. "They're not addressing the issues."