Retirement Lite

Wednesday - 9/19/2012, 2:00am EDT

Unless you get a sweet job offer from the outside, or hit your expiration date before you put in your papers, odds are you will retire from the government.

Thanks to the big federal job buildup during the Reagan years (when federal employment increased by about 280,000) many federal workers have the age and service time to retire right now. Federal retirement can be very good. Annuities are indexed in whole or part to inflation. Health insurance is guaranteed for life. Given the options, you made a wise career choice.

Except...

Retirement may be the start of the golden years. But it is also sort of like dying, except you have to do most of the planning, make the financial arrangements then live with the results of your decisions for what could be decades.

So starting off right is important. Going from salary to annuity is a big step. Your income can drop 50 percent, and delays in processing your paperwork could leave you living on a much smaller interim annuity for months. In some extreme cases, workers have been on interim payments (about 44 percent of their estimated final annuity) for a year or more.

The Office of Personnel Management is responsible for establishing your final annuity. It must process all the paperwork you've generated, maybe for 30 years or more. If you've worked at more than one agency, had a break in service, went into the military or somehow owe the government money, getting the case straight can take lots of time. Often agencies don't send OPM all the necessary paperwork further delaying action.

The backlog in processing retirement claims has been around — and been a problem — for decades. Back through Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. Politically it is not a sexy or high-priority item. After all, who cares if it takes a long time to get a career bureaucrat his/her first pension check? Hardly anybody — except the affected party who may be dining on cat food before the first full annuity check is in the mail!

Early in his administration, President Barack Obama did an unusual thing. He took OPM Director John Berry to a couple of cabinet meetings. The message was clear: If this guy calls, take it!

Berry, himself a long-time fed, made reducing the time lag in processing retirement claims a top priority. So far, so good. Even though the number of retirements has increased dramatically in the past couple of years the average time from half-a-loaf payments to the full, final annuity, has been reduced. But is that good enough, and will it continue to get better (as in shorter)?

How well has the Obama administration done in improving government operations. On Monday, Federal News Radio started a five-part series looking at, and rating the Obama administration, in critical areas of government operations. Today's segment includes hiring reform, security clearances, SES reform, teleworking and general support of feds as employees.

At 10 a.m. today on our Your Turn radio show, Federal Drive host Emily Kopp and I will talk about the retirement component of the administration's initiative. David Snell, director of benefit services for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees will join us. Also on board we will talk with Federal Times editor Steve Watkins and senior writer Sean Reilly. They'll give us their input on the retirement issue, on the consequences of sequestration and the future of the U.S. Postal Service.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

When Coca-Cola first partnered with McDonald's in the 1950s, the largest size fountain soda was a meager 7 ounces, according to Slate. The McDonald's large soda is now 32 ounces.


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