Claims processing employees are working during the shutdown.
This story has been updated.
The Office of Personnel Management continued to chip away at the retirement claims backlog last month, which fell 22 percent between August and September, according to the agency’s latest figures.
The backlog now stands at 17,719 claims -- 4,523 fewer claims than the agency expected to have in the queue at the end of September. OPM reinstated limited overtime for retirement services staff in August, which helped the agency exceed its projections, despite only processing 124 more retirement applications in September than in August. But the agency also received 2,600 fewer new retirement claims last month than it projected, giving retirement services employees some breathing room.
Sequestration, which took effect in March, forced OPM to eliminate all overtime in April through mid-summer, slowing the agency’s momentum in eliminating the backlog. It’s unclear how the government shutdown will affect retirement claims processing, if at all. OPM’s Retirement Services component continues to operate during a shutdown because it’s not funded through appropriations, according to the agency’s contingency plan. So, the retirement services staff currently is working.
The agency hopes to clear up the backlog to a “consistent workload” by March 2014 -- roughly seven months later than the original target date of July 2013. The average processing time for a claim is now around 91 days, down from about 156 days in February 2012.
Still, many federal retirees continue to 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.