The Office of Personnel Management is currently fighting against a backlog of applications and claims for retirement benefits. While the backlog tends to peak at the start of the year, spikes in applications or attempted enrollments can add to the backlog each month.

July was a particularly bad month for OPM retirement claims, as the number of applications spiked but weren’t processed. Federal employees who are trying to apply for benefits might have struggled to sign up or even access their basic information.

Here’s what you need to know about this backlog and how you can access your benefits despite it.

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How Bad Is the OPM Retirement Claims Backlog?

In July, the backlog spiked 18% as citizens filed OPM retirement claims before the agency was able to process them. According to FedSmith, the OPM received 10,070 new claims in July but was only able to process 7,509. This brings the total backlog up to 17,091.

OPM was unable to process as many claims in July as it did in past months, which contributed to the backlog. However, there is hope as 59% of claims were processed in 60 days or less. During the less busy months (like May), the OPM is able to catch up on the backlog and actually process more OPM retirement claims than it receives.

What Does This Backlog Mean for You?

Primarily, this backlog affects older employees who are ready to retire this year. If you’re trying to start your retirement, then you could experience delays in your pension and salary benefits. This means you will have to wait several months (if not more than a year) to access your benefits and either start your retirement or receive financial assistance.

Additionally, this backlog hurts prospective enrollees, who will experience processing errors and delays in the system. When you try to sign up for benefits, the system could freeze or send error messages, preventing you from actually registering. You may have to try multiple times to register or wait until the backlog is cleared.

Retirement backlogs at the OPM aren’t new. Last March we reported that 73% of claims were stuck in the backlog while the office processed retirement forms. January and February are the biggest months for signing up for retirement, so a massive backlog that forms at the beginning of the year will likely last through fall and even into next winter.

What Caused the Backlog?

The Office of Personnel Management says it is aware of the backlog of benefit claims and is working to correct the issue. However, there are several factors that led up to the creation of the backlog, all of which have to be addressed in order to fix it.

Unless these causes are fixed, any temporary solutions will simply mean treating the symptoms instead of the actual problem. So what caused such a dramatic backlog?

  • The OPM attempted to use an “off-the-shelf” private sector processing system, which was unsuccessful.
  • The development team tried to completely redesign all aspects of retirement processing simultaneously, instead of rolling out changes slowly and helping users adapt to the changes. Too many new aspects in the enrollment process were confusing for citizens and staff members, thus slowing the approval process.
  • The goal of these new systems and changes was increased automation. The OPM assumed lower staff levels were needed. The rest of the staff was left with excess caseloads of OPM retirement claims with increasing levels of complexity.

Essentially, the OPM faced a perfect storm of issues that continued to build upon on one another. Had their “off-the-shelf” solution launched correctly, it might have been able to make changes faster with increased automation. Faster, automated processing could have decreased the need for additional staff. However, because the first system failed, the subsequent plans for improvements caused more problems than solutions.

How Will the OPM Fix the Backlog?

To counter the backlog, the first steps the OPM took was restoring the staff levels. The organization hired 40 legal administrative specialists to help with the current and future workload. Existing staff can also take advantage of authorized overtime to help combat the existing backlog. Overtime will be authorized until the backlog is cleared.

Staffing provides a short-term solution while the OPM looks for long-term plans for their software systems. While that is improving, current retirees will receive benefits from an interim pay process which takes 5-7 days to process. With this interim process helping retirees access their benefits, the existing staff can focus on OPM retirement claims and new applications.

What Can You Do During This Slowdown?

Filling OPM retirement claims can be frustrating when there’s a backlog, especially when you want to start saving for retirement now or need to access your benefits today.

Instead of fighting against the current at OPM, contact MyFEDBenefits today and talk with one of our retirement specialists. We can help you file your application and are happy to answer your processing questions. There’s no reason you can’t start saving for retirement in 2017. 

Contact us today to form a plan for your future.

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