The Office of Personnel Management got some breathing room last month to deal with the federal retirement backlog, receiving fewer new claims in April than expected.
OPM reported that it received 7,059 new retirement applications last month, slightly under the 8,000 it projected and the fewest so far in 2013, according to the latest statistics. The agency experienced an influx of 52,744 new claims between January and March alone, a 51 percent increase from the same period last year.
The backlog now stands at 30,080 claims, down 18 percent since March and 17 percent since January.
The slowdown in new claims filed in April could be timing; new applications usually pour in at the end and beginning of every year. The number of applications filed last month is roughly the same as April 2012, when the agency received 6,770 new claims. Still, the retirement spike earlier this year could be a harbinger of the federal retirement “tsunami” that human resources officials and other government observers have predicted for at least a decade. Ongoing budget uncertainty in agencies, as well as federal employees’ fears over reduced pay and benefits, continue to be factors in many feds’ retirement decisions.
OPM managed to process a total of 13,582 claims in April, but it could have some difficulty keeping up the pace through the summer and fall. Sequestration forced the agency to ban overtime for retirement services employees, and the office has reduced its call center hours. Ken Zawody, OPM’s associate director of retirement services, said in a recent blog post that the backlog likely will grow because of the cutbacks.
Many federal retirees still wait several months, and sometimes years, for their applications to be fully and correctly processed. OPM administers benefits for 2.5 million federal retirees and processes about 100,000 new claims annually.