OPM makes slow but steady progress on retirement backlog


The backlog of federal retirement claims is down 32 percent since the beginning of the year, according to the latest figures from the Office of Personnel Management.

The agency received 973 more applications in August than it expected, and processed 365 more files than its projected goal for the month. In August, OPM processed 11,865 claims and received 8,973 new claims. The backlog, one of the government’s most persistent problems for more than two decades, now stands at 41,787 claims, a 6 percent drop from July. In January, the claims queue was 61,108 pending applications.

Despite the slow and steady progress OPM has made in tackling the backlog, many federal retirees still wait several months for their applications to be fully processed. On average, it takes 156 days to process a claim, but many retirees wait much longer than that for their full annuity checks. The still-ailing economy coupled with proposals to increase the amount feds contribute to their pensions and the extended pay freeze makes the wait for timely and accurate retirement checks even more frustrating. “People think that if you work for the government, we have it good,” said a Government Executive reader who retired in December 2011 and has been receiving only partial retirement pay since March. “BOY, is the public wrong.”

The Republican Party’s policy platform, announced last week at the political convention in Tampa Bay, Fla., said the government is too bloated and that federal pay and benefits are out of whack with the private sector’s. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, want to restructure federal compensation, and Ryan specifically has proposed extending the civilian pay freeze and increasing the amount feds contribute to their retirement benefits.

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 applications are administered within two months of receipt. While OPM so far is ahead of its projected goal -- a backlog of 12,978 claims by July 2013 -- it’s unclear the effect an influx of retirements at the end of 2012 and possible governmentwide budget cuts will have on eliminating the wait for retirement pay.

(Image via qvist/Shutterstock.com)

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