The Office of Personnel Management processed 5,051 fewer retirement claims in December than projected, even though the agency ended 2013 with a smaller backlog than it anticipated.
The long-standing retirement applications backlog was at 12,637 claims as of December 31 -- 305 fewer claims than it expected to have by that date. But the agency has struggled in the last two months to keep up the pace of processing, finalizing far fewer claims in November than in any single month since July 2012. Part of the reason for the slowdown is that since last summer, OPM has received fewer new retirement applications than it expected; as a result, it scaled back its processing efforts.
In fact, OPM received 4,952 claims in December -- 3,448 fewer new claims than anticipated for the month. Overall, the agency completed 6,449 claims in December.
January is a popular month for federal employees to submit their retirement applications. The agency expects to receive 20,000 new claims this month, and estimates the backlog will grow to 21,442 claims.
The agency struggled in 2013 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 of last year, OPM was forced to eliminate overtime because of the automatic spending cuts, but reinstated it in August, a move that 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. By May 2014, OPM projects a backlog of 13,042 claims. The average processing time for a claim is now around 91 days, down from about 156 days in February 2012.
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.