Thousands of people who retired from government three, four and even five months ago still have not received an annuity check. There is a backlog of about 75,000 cases, and long delays in getting "interim" payments are commonplace these days.

The financial situation is most serious for the low-grade pensioners who have little or no savings to fall back on. They must pay bills and buy groceries while waiting for the government to document, compute and produce benefits due them. Imagine going three to four months without any income, and one gets a picture of the problem.

A high-level official who retired in February said he got his annuity problems straightened out "only because I knew which strings to pull, and whom to call." He said it is a "damned shame" that the typical exbureaucrat doesn't have the clout, inside help or knowledge to get his or her annuity rolling.

The Office of Personnel Management, which handles the retirements, is working overtime. It has brought in 100 new claims examiners, but it will take weeks before they are able to work at top speed in adjudicating the cases that can be very, very complex.

When an employe retires, the affected agency is supposed to notify the OPM and send it the employe's papers, payroll date, military service information and whatever else is needed. That can be done as quickly as 15 days, or more commonly, it can take three times that long.

Ideally, the new retiree will be put on temporary or interim pay that would equal approximately 80 percent of what the monthly pension payment should be. That is necessary because the government must compute the final annuity, based on the employe's highest three-year-salary average, length of service, military service credits, if any, and determine whether the employe owes Uncle Sam any money for property or leave.

Once OPM here receives the preliminary data from the agency (or agencies) of the retiree, it sends the file to its office in Boyers, Pa., where records are stored in an old coal mine.A truck from the OPM here meets an OPM truck from Boyers daily along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Records are exchanged and brought to the office that needs to check or authorize payments.

Even after Washington authorizes the payments, checks must be printed and mailed -- by the Treasury Department in Chicago. In the best of times this is a time-consuming process. During periods of many retirements (such as January and February this year), it can take longer.