Postal bill amendment seeks to cut backlog ahead of USPS retirement 'deluge'

Monday - 4/23/2012, 4:56pm EDT

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An amendment to a Senate bill restructuring the U.S. Postal Service's financial framework would institute new agency reporting requirements for retiring federal workers, anticipating a "deluge of retirees," from USPS.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), introduced an amendment last week to the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 (S. 1789), that requires the Office of Personnel Management to take new steps to chip away at a longstanding backlog of federal retirement claims.

In a floor speech Monday, Warner said his office has received hundreds of requests from federal retirees who have faced long waits and "inordinate hardship ... while their retirement paperwork moves through the system."

And the retirement backlog could grow larger.

Much of the postal reform bill's cost-savings stem from reducing its workforce, in part through early retirements. All told, the bill sets a goal of reducing the USPS workforce by 18 percent, which would add nearly 100,000 applications to the retirement pipeline.

New reporting requirements

The amendment requires OPM to submit monthly public reports to lawmakers and the Government Accountability Office evaluating USPS retirement claims — for timeliness, completeness and accuracy — compared to other federal agencies.

"This will allow us to see which federal agencies have the best — and worst — track record in submitting the paperwork to OPM," Warner said.

The amendment also requires OPM to list the total number of pending retirement claims along with how long each application has been pending.

Finally, OPM would be required to provide a timetable detailing progress on one part of its technology-modernization process for receiving and processing retirement claims. The overhaul, which began in 2008, will ultimately allow OPM to electronically receive personnel information from the five federal agency payroll processors, which includes USPS.

Warner said the still largely paper-based system is "unacceptable" in 2012.

"It's simply no longer feasible to expect that manual data entry for retirement and benefits claims makes sense when we have technology that can dramatically lower processing time and increase accuracy," he added.

Warner has been among the most vocal critics of OPM's handling of retirement and other benefits claims.

Warner foresees USPS retirement 'tsunami'

OPM has made progress in recent months. Since January, it has consistently exceeded its monthly goals and the backlog fell by 14 percent to 52,000 in March.

But Warner suggested the large wave of USPS retirements envisioned and encouraged by the Senate postal reform bill could push OPM's retirement-processing efforts over the edge.

"With close to 100,000 potential new retirees ... OPM's going to get hit by a tsunami," he said.

The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012. In his floor speech, Warner said the amendment had been included in a manager's package, which contains previously agreed-upon amendments and add-ons to the larger bill.

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