Warner amendment addresses federal pension backlog
Postal reform legislation adopted by the U.S. Senate today on a vote of 62-37 included an amendment written by Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) that aims to accelerate and improve a federal benefits processing system that still relies on the hand-processing of paper records.
Virginia is home to an estimated 130,000 federal workers, and many of them have contacted Sen. Warner about delays, sometimes as long as 12-18 months, in the payment of full earned benefits. These constituent concerns led Warner to focus on the technological challenges and lack of accountability across the federal workforce benefits system.
“I have received requests for help from hundreds of federal retirees in Virginia who have experienced inexcusable delays in receiving their full retirement benefits. These retirees have to pay their bills and try to survive on just a partial pension payment while their retirement paperwork crawls through this complicated, slow and antiquated process,” Warner said. “It’s time to drag the federal retirement process into the 21st century, even if it’s kicking and screaming.”
S. 1789, the underlying legislation to reform the U.S Postal Service, envisions significant reductions to the postal workforce via voluntary early retirements, perhaps as many as 109,000 out of a workforce of more than half a million people. This large volume of retirements, when combined with other benefits claims, would crush the current process administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Warner’s amendment, co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), directs OPM to take immediate steps to upgrade its processes while also reducing its current backlog of 52,000 federal retirement claims, which peaked in January 2012 at 62,000. Specifically, the amendment requires OPM to:
· produce monthly progress reports comparing the timeliness, completeness and accuracy of information submitted to OPM by each federal agency
· update the overall number of retirement applications that are awaiting action at OPM, as well as how long each application has been in the pipeline
· and provide a realistic timetable for implementing new technology that would allow OPM to begin receiving relevant retirement information electronically from federal agencies.
“Some federal agencies routinely submit incomplete or inaccurate information to OPM, and this new requirement for transparency will clearly show which agencies have the best – and the worst – track records,” Warner said. “Second, this renewed focus on accountability requires OPM to pay closer attention to pension claims which have been pending the longest. With this amendment, I expect federal retirees and their families soon will begin to see significantly improved customer service and responsiveness from OPM.”