When a government agency provides wrong information, should one be surprised? Reliance upon a source of information is always a problematic issue; further, there is always a presumption that information issued by the original source should on its face be reliable.
Information obtain from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on issues of retirement, disability retirement, collateral issues of survivor’s benefits, etc., should by its very nature be reliable because that is precisely the very agency which mandates the regulations and handles all matters concerning Federal retirement, disability or otherwise. But more and more, phone calls to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management have resulted in misinformation being provided.
There is, of course, always the possibility that the caller misinterpreted what was stated over the telephone; but when such occurrences become regular encounters, one begins to wonder if such a simplistic explanation can adequately satisfy the curious mind. Unfortunately, there may be a better explanation: in an agency which is overworked and understaffed, replies to inquiries may come from unreliable sources who are either inadequately trained, lack the necessary information, or simply are discourteous enough to give any answer thought of to get rid of the caller.
Ultimately, the best answer one may rely upon is that which may be subject to accountability — the written word. For, if information provided in written format on a website — whether on the official agency website, or on an attorney’s website — is relied upon, such reliance cannot later be retracted or dismissed with, “I never said that”, when it shows plainly as the day is bright that the organization or entity is the responsible agent for the information provided. In the end, a source of information must always be verified based upon multiple elements: Reliability of the agent; motivation for the information; longevity of accuracy; reputation for having expertise in an area; and multiple other checks and balances.
Making a phone call is a dangerous venture to begin with; for, the voice on the other end is merely that — a faceless voice with no accountability — and the source of information may be coming from a parallel universe of the absurd, called the “Misinformation Center“.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire