The backlog of federal retirement claims increased 73 percent between December and January due to an influx of new applications last month, according to the latest Office of Personnel Management data.
OPM received 15,423 retirement applications in January, 10,670 more than it received in December. Because of the increase, the inventory of pending claims grew from 11,399 in December to 19,761 in January.
Retirement claims typically spike in January, and then settle to lower levels for the rest of the year, but the number of new applications submitted tends to go up and down from month to month. OPM processed 7,061 claims in January -- 1,145 more than in December. Seventy-nine percent of retirement claims were processed in 60 days or less for the year to date in January, according to OPM; it took 38 days on average to process a case in 60 days or less. That’s two days less than in December 2015. Cases that took more than two months to process were completed in 94 days on average in January, an improvement over 104 days for that category in December.
Still, the backlog in January 2016 has 2,875 fewer claims than it did a year ago. And OPM actually received 3,206 more retirement applications in January 2015 than it did last month.
Clearing up the retirement claims backlog has been an ongoing struggle for OPM and a constant source of frustration for federal retirees and members of Congress, who hear lots of complaints from their constituents. OPM originally attempted to eliminate the backlog by the summer of 2013, but sequestration forced the agency to scale back its ambitions.
Ken Zawodny, OPM associate director of retirement services, has said that OPM will never fully eliminate the backlog because there will always be cases that take time to process. Many cases that take more than 60 days to complete are delayed because the agency needs more information from retirees, according to OPM.