OPM Director John Berry has said fixing delays in processing new retirement claims is one of his top priorities. (Staff)
The Office of Personnel Management says it plans to clear a backlog of more than 48,000 federal retirement claims within 18 months by hiring 76 more staff, paying staff more overtime and taking other steps.
Because of the backlog, the average time to process a new retirement claim under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is 156 days as of Dec. 31, OPM said in a new report outlining how the agency plans to fix the problem.
OPM's goal is to adjudicate 90 percent of all new retirement claims within 60 days of receipt from the agencies, the report said.
OPM said in its report, which was sent to members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, that it plans to take the following steps:
• Hire more people. As of December, OPM's Retirement Services branch had 130 legal administrative specialists. It plans to hire 56 additional legal administrative specialists and 20 new customer service specialists who help prepare cases for the legal administrative specialists. The legal administrative specialists should be hired and trained by July, and customer service specialist positions should be filled in the next six weeks.
• Increase production rates. Currently, a legal administrative specialist is expected to produce at least 700 claims per year. OPM plans to increase that rate to about 1,100 claims per year. Individual monthly incentives are being considered for those who go "above and beyond the call of duty to help us achieve this goal in the timeframe allotted."
• Improve how claims are submitted. Staff will use a checklist to make sure the claim files that agencies prepare for their retiring employees are complete. Retirement Services is considering additional audits of the agencies that submit incomplete cases and cause frequent delays. OPM is also working to get access to agencies' electronic data management systems to improve the application process and the completeness of the applications received from agencies.
• Leverage other agencies' technologies. Currently, agencies provide comprehensive annuity estimates to prospective retirees by using "estimators" from the private sector. The process is similar to how an official annuity amount is determined. OPM is looking at building or buying IT systems that will allow the raw data from agency estimators and supporting documents to be received and managed electronically.
OPM's efforts to improve and speed up processing of retirement claims over the past 20 years focused almost exclusively on automation and information technology improvements.