Man tries unsuccessfully to pay back government

11:48 AM, Mar 31, 2013   |    comments
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LAKEWOOD - It's not every day that someone wants to give back the extra money they have in their bank account. But Mike Sawyer is desperate to get rid of approximately $6500 dollars.

"I'm not entitled to that money, it's not mine," Sawyer said. "It's due to an error, I understand that. I simply want to straighten out the problem. That's all."

Over his career, Sawyer worked for three different federal agencies. Part of his retirement comes from Social Security and part from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. When he turned 62 last year, he became eligible for social security. At that point, Sawyer said, OPM was supposed to reduce the amount it was paying him every month. He's not exactly certain by how much, but suspects OPM should be paying him anywhere from $100 to about $500 less each month. Sawyer says he has no real way to tell, because he doesn't have the mathematic formulas OPM goes by to determine the payment.

Overpayments started last March. Sawyers said he noticed and immediately tried to fix it.

"I've sent emails, I made numerous phone calls," he said.

He's kept a log every time he's reached out to anyone in his efforts to give the money back and stop the overpayments. He has about 30 or so entries. But the money still keeps coming.

"It's very frustrating," Sawyer said. "At moments it's almost amusing. It's so ridiculous. You sometimes feel like you're talking to a brick wall when you're talking to these people. They're just not responsive. I find that probably the most disturbing thing because having been a civil servant for 30 years I think they've lost site of the fact that the civil servants job to serve the public and they're clearly not doing that."

There is a new urgency for Sawyer to get rid of this money, he's about to have to pay taxes on something he says is not his.
"I'm sitting on a large sum of their money, I'm holding it in a bank account and I'm going to have to pay state and federal income taxes on that money in the next couple of weeks, even though it's not my money," he said.

After a year of not being able to resolve the issue with OPM Sawyer contacted Sen. Mark Udall's office in February, asking for help.

Udall's office told 9NEWS they're continuing to work with Sawyer on the problem.

While nothing was moving, Sawyer said he decided to contact 9NEWS after Crime and Justice Reporter Anastasiya Bolton did a story about James Clarkson, who OPM deemed dead, stopping his benefits.

Right after Bolton started making phone calls, Clarkson's case was resolved.

Sawyer said he was hoping for the same result when contacting 9NEWS.

"I'm now finally stuck with resorting having to use the media to get some attention," he said.

To get an idea how deep OPM's problems are, 9NEWS asked Udall's office about the number of OPM-related complaints the Senator's staff deals with.

This year, the staff has dealt with 15 constituent cases involving OPM. Last year that number was 109.

OPM does not track the number of problem cases for existing retirees like Mike.

It does track new retirement applications. According to OPM statistics, just in February of this year, it received 20,374 retirement claims, but was able to process 15,333. The 5041 unprocessed claims were added to an already long list of people waiting for resolution. Right now, OPM lists 41,103 claims in their "inventory." That's over 41,000 people waiting for their new retirement claims to be processed by OPM.

9NEWS asked OPM for an interview, wanting to know more about their customer service and the reason for the backlog - and what the agency was doing to fix it.

OPM's Associate Director of Retirement Services Kenneth J Zawodny Jr. wrote: "OPM processes thousands of retirement claims a month, and it is constantly working on making the system as efficient as possible. During the past year we have continued to drive down our inventory and we are on track to meet our goal of processing 90 percent of cases within 60 days starting in July of 2013. Unfortunately, there is no simple or easy solution that will prevent the many complicated and specific situational issues from arising. But as soon as OPM discovers or is notified about an issue, it takes swift action. In the case of Mr. Sawyer, OPM has been working on his case in coordination with another federal agency that has shared responsibility for determining his final income. Federal employees expect and deserve respectful treatment that is commensurate with their service. Nothing is more important to OPM than fulfilling this obligation."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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