Many employees, especially those that have been in federal service for a while, likely remember the days when agencies had retirement specialists on local staff, typically aligned under the local Human Resources Office. In fact, many employees knew the retirement specialist by first name. These retirement specialists provided direct consultation and servicing to federal employees inquiring about federal retirement benefits. These same specialists were also responsible for preparing and submitting retirement applications for federal employees to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). More importantly, they were responsible for identifying and resolving issues and anomalies in applying for federal retirement such as breaks in service, military service deposits, court orders impacting retirement, insurance issues, missing documents in an employee’s Official Personnel Folder, resolving creditable service discrepancies, and a wide range of other complicated issues requiring specialized training, networks, and experience to resolve.
During the past decade, many federal agencies started moving retirement services away from easy access to federal employees and into higher levels of the organization. In some agencies, you now apply for retirement by clicking a link on your agency intranet page. In other agencies, you must submit an e-mail to a nondescript e-mail intake address and wait for a response. Lately, we noticed an even more disturbing trend of moving all localized retirement services to “Shared Service Centers” or “Consolidated Retirement Units”. This business / organizational model removes all access to retirement specialists from field level employees and places the specialist well away from the employee level of the organization, making access even more difficult.
Applying for federal retirement can be very complicated and consequential. The only advocate for federal employees throughout the federal retirement application process, other than the affected employee is (was) the local retirement specialist. We are personally aware of many instances in which knowledgable federal retirement specialists discovered file and documentation errors prior to retirement application saving employees significant money in the form of pension and insurance benefits. Furthermore, local retirement specialists often provided highly personalized retirement counseling identifying unique personal needs or circumstances of employees and advised them accordingly. This level of service cannot be achieved by clicking a link on an agency website to initiate the retirement process.
What Can Federal Employees Do?
First and foremost, federal employees must aggressively object to the loss of retirement servicing at the field level of the organization. They can directly do this through the local Human Resources Officer. While federal labor unions have significant ability to influence the issue, they have been remarkably silent. Federal employees should contact their local unions to raise the issue if necessary.
Federal employees must pay particular attention to the five-year period before expected retirement from federal service. It is far better to discover errors and issues as early as possible rather than at the time you apply for retirement.
Some specific actions (not all-inclusive) include,
- Download a complete copy of the employee e-OPF and ensure it is accurate and contains documentation of all creditable federal service.
- Review the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Pre-Retirement FAQ
- Visit the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) CSRS and FERS Information site to obtain accurate planning information.
- Check eligibility for Social Security Benefits
Employees should prepare for the future as it seems increasingly likely they may be left to fend for themselves in the future when applying for federal retirement.