Will you wind up a 2 percenter?

Friday - 7/13/2012, 2:00am EDT

When your harried local power company — following a big storm — announces that 98 percent of all homes in the area have electricity, that is a major victory. Great news. Life is good. Unless...

Unless you are part of the 2 percent who are still in the dark. Which, dude, is a 100 percent bummer!

And unless you have a generator with a lot of fuel, a ton of batteries and computers, phones and radios to put them in. If you don't, you are in the dark until the power comes back on. The fact that most people have power is of little comfort if you are not most people.

The D.C. area, along with much of the eastern half of the U.S., went through storms accompanied by record heat a couple of weeks back. How hot was it?

It was so hot here that the temperature of the Potomac River at Key Bridge hit 94 degrees. And things were apparently worse for folks in St. Louis and other hot, sticky cities.

Most of us have power back. Crews from all over the country — and Canada — were called in to help. Now, politicians and the media have the juice to attack high-paid electricity providers for not doing more and doing it faster and better. It's a ritual played out, almost every summer and winter, that seems designed primarily to pacify panting voters and bill-payers without any real solution.

Which brings us to the backlog in processing retirement applications at the Office of Personnel Management. Because it is a paper-work based system, the magic and speed of computers can't solve it. The backlog has been around forever. It has gotten better, then worse, then better again. But it never goes away.

OPM Director John Berry has made reducing the backlog a top priority. More people have been hired and more resources devoted to the process. Until their application is approved retiree annuties are limited to between 40 and 80 percent of their final estimated amount. The process can take longer for employees with broken service. Agencies compound the problem with an error rate of something like 19 percent in the paperwork they send to OPM. In the past some agencies waited until the end of the month to send applications over to OPM, even though many employees retire on the 31st or 1, 2nd or 3rd of the month. That builds in a one month delay even before OPM gets the documents.

And with the buyout/early retirement offers being made by various agencies, the number of retirees is growing. Fast. And it could be even bigger (clogging the pipeline) starting in October when a new round of buyout/early outs will be offered. Even as OPM makes dramatic reductions in the backlog, new applications arrive in quantity. Buyouts being offered by Air Force (round three), the U.S. Postal Service, and other agencies could easily add tens of thousands of people to the already clogged retirement pipeline.

For some new retirees, being put on half rations isn't so bad. The smart (fortunate) ones have stockpiled a cash reserve they can use to pay rent, meet the mortgage and continue to eat. Most don't have to wait very long.

But there are people who have been retired for a year whose final papers haven't been processed and approved. For some of them this has meant tapping their TSP accounts or using up annual leave payments they had hoped to save or spend on things other than paying day-to-day bills.

Consider this comment from a fed who's been waiting eight months for his final annuity to be approved:

"Please note, I am not complaining. I am fortunate to not have to depend on the annuity, the temporary amount is just over $400 a month! Not much, but I do have a 401(k) and other assets.

"I thought you should know and maybe warn other retirees and those thinking of retiring. I am a little concerned that if they get too much pressure they may rush and mistakes could increase." — In The Dark, But Okay!


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Nude tourism is on the upswing, according to Reuters. A survey of U.S. households with income of at least $50,000 indicated that 17 percent of respondents saw a visit to a nude or clothing-optional resort as "extremely" or "very desirable."


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