The Office of Personnel Management processed more retirement claims in March than in the previous two months, making a dent in its backlog despite an increase in claims, according to agency figures.
OPM’s retirement claims backlog was 52,274 in March, a decrease of 14 percent from January. The agency received 7,090 new claims in March, 2,090 more than it expected and 675 more than were submitted in February. OPM has received 34,984 new submissions since the beginning of the year.
Despite the spike, OPM processed 12,386 claims in March, exceeding projections by 4,086. The agency estimates it will receive 8,000 new submissions in April, and process 8,300 claims.
In January, OPM experienced an influx of 21,469 pension claims, adding to its 48,378 backlog as of December 2011. The agency is projecting a retirement claims backlog of 29,478 by the end of 2012.
OPM administers benefits for 2.5 million federal retirees and processes about 100,000 new claims annually. Director John Berry has said eliminating the backlog is his highest priority in 2012. Earlier this year, OPM unveiled a plan that aims to get rid of the claims backlog within 18 months and to reduce processing times so that 90 percent of claims are administered within two months of receipt.
The plan, which Berry outlined in testimony on Capitol Hill in February, includes hiring more staff to process retirement claims, firing poor performers and incrementally upgrading technology to expedite payments. The strategy is composed of four pillars: people; productivity and process improvement; partnering with agencies; and partial, progressive information technology improvements. OPM also is considering giving bonuses to claims processing employees to motivate them.
Lawmakers asked OPM in February to report monthly on the status of the backlog.
Processing retirement claims, particularly disability claims, can be complex and time-consuming, and OPM relies heavily on other federal agencies to provide retirees' information, including the amount of their annuity. The agency uses more than 500 different procedures, laws and regulations to address retirement applications.