RRB sets minimum customer service standards

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board's Customer Service Plan promotes the principles and objectives of customer-driven quality service agency-wide. The Board's plan states specifically the level of service that customers can expect, and an important part of the plan is a pledge to keep beneficiaries informed of how well the Board is meeting the plan's standards. The plan is reviewed and updated periodically as the Board gains more experience with it, compares its service with the best in business and considers feedback received from its customers.

The following questions and answers provide information about the Railroad Retirement Board's performance in the key areas of railroad retirement, disability and survivor benefit payments, plus railroad unemployment and sickness benefit payments, and the handling of correspondence during Fiscal Year 1999 (October 1998 ­ September 1999).

1. What standards were used by the Board in Fiscal Year 1999 for processing applications for railroad retirement employee or spouse annuities?

The Board's Customer Service Plan provides that if you filed for a railroad retirement employee or spouse annuity in advance, you will receive your first payment, or a decision, within 35 days of the beginning date of your annuity. If you have not filed in advance, you will receive your first payment, or a decision, within 65 days of the date you filed your application.

Of the cases processed during Fiscal Year 1999, 93.2 percent of employee and 95.5 percent of spouse applicants who filed in advance received a payment, or a decision, within 35 days of their annuity beginning date. Average processing times for employee and spouse applications were 10.4 and 7.7 days, respectively.

Also, of the cases processed, 96.2 percent of employee and 89.5 percent of spouse applicants who had not filed in advance received a payment, or a decision, within 65 days of their filing dates. In these cases, the average processing times for employee and spouse applications were 25 and 28 days, respectively.

2. What standards were used by the Board in Fiscal Year 1999 for processing applications for disability annuities under the Railroad Retirement Act?

The Board's Customer Service Plan provides that if you filed for a railroad retirement disability annuity, you will receive a decision within 105 days of the date you filed your application.

If it is determined that you are entitled to disability benefits, you will receive your first payment within 25 days of the date of the Board's decision, or the earliest possible payment date, whichever is later.

Of the cases processed during Fiscal Year 1999, 50.6 percent of those filing for a railroad retirement disability annuity received a decision within 105 days of the date they filed an application. The average processing time was 116 days. Of those entitled to disability benefits, 90 percent received their first payment within the Customer Service Plan's timeframe. Average processing time was 8.9 days.

3. How did the Board's performance in the area of survivor benefits measure up to its standards in Fiscal Year 1999?

Under the Board's Customer Service Plan, if you filed for a railroad retirement survivor annuity or a lump-sum benefit, you will receive your first payment, or a decision, within 65 days of the date you filed your application, or became entitled to benefits, if later. If you are already receiving a spouse annuity, you will receive your first payment, or a decision, within 35 days of the date the Board receives notice of the employee's death.

Of the cases processed during Fiscal Year 1999, 77.3 percent of the applicants for a survivor annuity received a payment or a decision within 65 days. In addition, 93.8 percent of the applicants for a lump-sum benefit received a payment or a decision within 65 days. In cases where the survivor was already receiving a spouse annuity, 90.7 percent of the applicants received a payment or a decision within 35 days of the Board being notified of the employee's death. Average processing times for all recurring and lump-sum applications were 26 and 21 days, respectively.

4. What were the standards for the handling of applications and claims for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits and how well did the Board meet these standards?

Under the Board's Customer Service Plan, if you filed an application for unemployment or sickness insurance benefits, you will receive a claim form, or a decision, within 15 days of the date you filed your application. If you filed a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness insurance benefits, you will receive a payment, or a decision, within 15 days of the date the Board receives your claim form.

During Fiscal Year 1999, 99 percent of unemployment benefit applications and 99 percent of sickness applications processed met the Board's standard. Average processing times for unemployment and sickness insurance applications were 1.6 and 2.8 days, respectively.

In addition, 99.5 percent of subsequent claims processed for unemployment and sickness benefits met the Board's standard for Fiscal Year 1999. Payments are issued within two business days of processing. The average processing time for claims was 3.9 days.

5. How well did the Board meet its standard for replying to correspondence in Fiscal Year 1999?

The Board's standard provides that when you inquire by letter, you will receive a reply within 15 days of the date the Board receives your inquiry. If for any reason the Board cannot reply within that timeframe, it will acknowledge the letter and tell you how long it will be before your questions can be answered fully.

In Fiscal Year 1999, 99 percent of all correspondence the Board received was responded to, either with an acknowledgement or with a final reply, within the standard.

6. How did the Board's performance in meeting its standards in Fiscal Year 1999 compare to its performance in Fiscal Year 1998?

Fiscal Year 1999 performance versus the customer service standards remained at the same high level when compared to Fiscal Year 1998 performance.

The most marked improvement was shown in the processing of applications for disability annuities. For cases processed during Fiscal Year 1999, 50.6 percent received a decision within 105 days of their filing dates as compared to 28.1 percent in Fiscal Year 1998; and the average processing time in these cases improved to 116 days, as compared to 143.9 days last year. Of those entitled to benefits, 90 percent received their first payment within the Customer Service Plan's standard, with an average processing time of 8.9 days, as compared to 84.2 percent and 12.3 days, respectively, in Fiscal Year 1998.

The processing of disability applications requires medical evidence and related documentation to establish entitlement; and obtaining this material can be a lengthy process. The Board continuously seeks improvements in collecting the required documentation to provide accurate and more timely handling of applications.

Only in the handling of sickness insurance applications was there a slight decline in performance versus the standards, when compared to Fiscal Year 1998. Performance declined marginally to 99 percent during Fiscal Year 1999 compared to 99.2 percent for Fiscal Year 1998. However, this performance still exceeded the target of 98.8 percent set for the Board in its Annual Performance Plan.

7. Can beneficiaries provide feedback to the Board about the service they receive?

A Customer Assessment Survey form is available in every field office allowing beneficiaries to evaluate the service they received and suggest how the Board can improve its service. Persons not satisfied with the service they received may contact the manager of the office with which they have been dealing or the regional director who is responsible for that office. Their names and addresses are available in each office.

The addresses and phone numbers of all RRB field offices are available on the Board's web site at www.rrb.gov or by calling the toll-free RRB Help Line at (800) 808-0772. The Help Line is an automated service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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