Retirement Planning Retirement PlanningRetirement Planning
Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

About That Backlog…


As most federal employees have heard, especially those who are near retirement, there’s a substantial backlog of retirement claims at the Office of Personnel Management that haven’t been fully processed and are awaiting review. As of the end of March, the backlog stood at 36,603 claims. That’s a lot less than the 61,108 that were backed up in January 2012, but if you’re a recent retiree (or planning to retire soon) it’s still not a very comforting number.

To compound the problem, there have been many more retirements so far in 2013 than anticipated. For example, OPM expected to receive around 21,000 retirements in January, since many employees take advantage of retiring at the end of the leave year to maximize the payout of unused annual leave.

This year, retirement claims submitted in January numbered 22,187. Usually after the initial flurry of end-of-year retirements, things die down for a few months. In February, OPM expected to receive only 5,600 new claims, but they received 20,374. That is almost four times the number of projected retirements. And again in March, the projection was for a moderate amount of new retirement applications -- about 5,000 new claims. But would-be retirees submitted more than twice that number -- a total of 10,183 new claims.

What is happening here?

Is this the long awaited “retirement tsunami” that former OPM Director Linda Springer predicted during the Bush administration, based on the fact that so many federal employees began reaching retirement eligibility at the same time? Or is this the effect of sequestration and furloughs? Or is it possible we’re seeing large numbers of people decide that if they don’t retire now, their benefits will be cut by Congress and the Obama administration?

I think it’s a combination of all of these factors -- and more. For example, the Postal Service is in the midst of a major downsizing effort, which is likely to accelerate in the months and years ahead. And other agencies are offering early retirements and  buyouts.

The good news is that OPM has put many efficiency improvements into effect and has hired additional personnel that have helped increase the number of claims processed. The agency is now able to process 10,000 to 15,000 claims every month, preventing the backlog from ballooning even higher. OPM has also been communicating with agencies in order to reduce the number of applications that are submitted with errors or missing documentation. OPM should be applauded for making significant strides in this area.

Still, despite all the progress OPM has made, the agency is fighting an uphill battle, and faces an ongoing challenge. After all, OPM already administers benefits for 2.5 million federal retirees and even in an ordinary year processes more than 100,000 new claims.

The problem is that retirement processing remains a paper-based, human-touch system. It hasn’t been fully automated due to complexities in the rules governing retirement benefits and the way records have traditionally been maintained prior to electronic record-keeping. Until those issues are resolved, would-be retirees are likely to face long waits before their applications make it through the process.


Tammy Flanagan has spent 30 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits. She runs her own consulting business at and provides individual counseling as well as online training for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Plan Your Federal Retirement as well as the Federal Long Term Care insurance Program. She also serves as the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Federal News Radio on Mondays at 10 a.m. ET on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington-metro area. Archived shows are available on

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.