The Office of Personnel Management processed far fewer retirement claims in November than it has in any single month in more than a year, and about half of its October total.
OPM processed 5,714 retirement claims last month, just one month after completing more than 11,000, a figure it accomplished despite the government shutdown. November’s total marked, by a large margin, the fewest claims OPM has completed in any month since at least July 2012.
The agency received 5,672 claims in November, fewer than the 8,400 it anticipated. New claims were also down from October, when OPM received about 7,500 submissions. OPM noted that as incoming claims fell, the agency scaled back its processing efforts.
“Our goal is to process at least as many cases as we receive each month and to use extra processing capacity for surges,” Ken Zawodny, OPM’s associate director of retirement services, told Government Executive.
Despite the setback, OPM remains ahead of its projected backlog. About 14,000 retirement claims remain unprocessed, 2,000 fewer than it had anticipated. The backlog, however, remained relatively stable from October after several months of OPM reducing the total by thousands. Still, a generous use of overtime by claims processors has allowed OPM to cut the backlog by more than half from where it stood a year ago, when 31,000 claims were outstanding.
The agency has struggled this year to keep chipping away at the retirement claims backlog because of sequestration and a wave of new applications, many from Postal Service employees taking advantage of the early outs and buyouts offered by the financially strapped agency. In April, OPM was forced to eliminate overtime because of the automatic spending cuts, but reinstated it in August, which helped get the agency back on track. In November, however, OPM did not use overtime, citing the lower number of incoming claims.
The agency hopes to clear up the backlog to a “consistent workload” by March 2014 -- roughly seven months later than the original target date of July 2013. The average processing time for a claim is now around 91 days, down from about 156 days in February 2012.
Still, many federal retirees continue to 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.
Kellie Lunney contributed to this report.