Fasten Your Seatbelts: Retirement May Be a Bumpy Ride for Federal Employees

For many people, dreams of a relaxing retirement have already been dashed by declining equity in their home, rising gas prices, and a volatile stock market. But federal retirees face an additional hardship: a huge backlog in the federal pension system.

Tax professionals, family law attorneys, and pension specialists started to get concerned about the federal retirement backlog when orders dividing federal pensions in divorces were sent off to Washington, D.C. and then took weeks or months for acknowledgment of receipt.

The backlog is now as much as 18 months at the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which administers both the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS).

This frustrating delay caused would-be retirees and their former spouses to apply pressure to OPM through their congresspersons and senators. This tactic seemed to pay off when the Director of OPM, John Berry, recently issued a message acknowledging that “the current delays in retirement processing are unacceptable,” and claiming that he had a plan to eliminate the backlog.

In his Washington Post column, Joe Davidson gives Director Berry credit for his “honesty and openness” about OPM’s problem, but wonders whether his efforts can be successful or will be inadequate to eliminate the backlog of claims that now are counted at 62,000.

Federal retirees can likely count on delays for the foreseeable future, and family law and pension attorneys can expect continuing frustration and uncertainty as they try to secure retirement and survivor benefits for their divorcing clients.

For details on the federal pension systems, and all the details on dividing pensions of all kinds, turn to CEB’s Dividing Pensions and Other Employee Benefits in California Divorces, chaps 15-16.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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