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Sequestration May be Slowing Momentum on Retirement Claims

Backlog is down, but progress is falling short of goals.

The government processed 19 percent fewer retirement applications in May than in April, a sign that sequestration could be hobbling efforts to eliminate the long-standing claims backlog.

The Office of Personnel Management completed 10,954 retirement claims last month -- 2,628 fewer claims than it processed in April -- despite receiving roughly the same number of applications during both months. OPM hoped to process 11,500 claims in May, falling 5 percent short of that goal.

Sequestration, which forced the agency in April to ban overtime for retirement services employees through the end of fiscal 2013 and reduce its call center hours, likely is to blame for the slowdown. Ken Zawody, OPM’s associate director of retirement services, said in an April blog post that the backlog would probably grow because of the cutbacks.

Still, OPM’s latest statistics show that the current backlog stands at 26,210 retirement claims, down 13 percent since April. The agency has made sustained progress during the past year to reduce the backlog, despite a record number of new applications since January.

The agency also is offering 17 buyouts this summer to employees in the retirement services division, the office responsible for processing claims and eliminating the backlog. It’s unclear whether those buyouts will have much of an effect on workflow -- there are 955 employees in the retirement services office -- but the ban on overtime because of automatic spending cuts complicates progress.

Many federal retirees still 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.

(Image via RHIMAGE/Shutterstock.com)

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