Senators ask OMB to intervene in retirement backlog

Monday - 2/6/2012, 7:06pm EST

A trio of Washington, D.C.-area senators has called on the Office of Management and Budget to take on the "urgent matter" of processing federal retirements.

A letter, signed by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), comes just a week after lawmakers at a Senate subcommittee hearing took the Office of Personnel Management to task for a 62,000-case backlog and long waits faced by federal retirees for full pensions.

The pension-processing backlog has been a longstanding problem. The letter, addressed to Acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients, suggests OMB's intervention will be necessary to completely tackle it.

"Because the improvements need to come from all government agencies, not just OPM, this issue needs to be on OMB's radar," a Warner spokesman said in an email, when asked why the lawmakers had written to OMB.

Prior to last week's hearing, OPM unveiled a new strategy to tackle the backlog, including hiring more personnel and automating more of the process one piece at a time.

But Warner suggested that wasn't good enough. He represents about 140,00 federal retirees, and he said his office has received a flood of complaints from constituents.

"Frankly, the current situation is unacceptable," Warner, Mikulski and Cardin reiterated in their Feb. 6 letter. And it could get worse, they added, warning of a "coming wave" of federal retirements. "Yet OPM continues to rely on paper records and an inadequate number of adjudicators."

The letter listed a number of steps that OPM should take — many of them in conjunction with OMB.

Long-term technology solution

The letter requests OPM managers submit a long-term plan, as part of the 2014 budget, to use a commercial technology solution to manage retiree records.

"It should be clear that we cannot solve the long-term concern about processing retiree benefits without incorporating technology to automate data feeds from other federal agencies, to standardize forms used to convey information about retirees and to speed other basic functions which will improve the intake and processing of interim and final benefits due to retirees," the senators wrote in the letter.

They also asked OPM to provide Congress with a list of agencies that don't submit accurate or complete personnel documents when employees file for retirement.

OPM has said agencies often provide incomplete employee records. "And it takes a long time for us to chase those pieces of paper," contributing to the logjam, Berry explained last month.

The letter also requests OPM to submit monthly progress reports to Congress on the backlog and work with agency human resources officials to create a standard checklist of information and documents retirees will need before their expected retirement dates.

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