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OPM Chips Away at Retirement Backlog, Despite Shutdown

Agency received more applications in October than in September.

The Office of Personnel Management cut its retirement backlog by 20 percent between September and October, but was slightly shy of its goal for the number of claims processed last month, according to the agency’s latest figures.

The agency completed 11,027 retirement applications in October, 473 claims fewer than it expected to finish that month. OPM also received fewer new applications in October than it anticipated: 7,484 claims versus the 8,400 applications it expected.

Still, the agency is ahead of its projected backlog as of October 2013. The backlog stands at 14,176 claims – 4,966 fewer than OPM estimated it would have in the queue by now and 3,543 fewer claims than it had in September. From October 2012 to October 2013, the overall backlog fell 62 percent.

The number of new applications was up last month: The agency received 1,684 more claims in October than it did in September, a trend that is likely to continue through the end of the year and into 2014 as more federal workers submit their paperwork for retirement. So far this year, 104,073 federal employees have filed for retirement. By contrast, 63,102 federal employees filed for retirement in 2012.

The agency has struggled this year to keep chipping away at the retirement claims backlog because of sequestration and a wave of new applications, many from Postal Service employees taking advantage of the early outs and buyouts offered by the financially strapped agency. In April, OPM was forced to eliminate overtime because of the automatic spending cuts, but reinstated it in August, which helped get the agency back on track. And OPM’s Retirement Services component continued to operate during the shutdown between Oct. 1 and Oct. 16 because it’s not funded through appropriations, so staff kept processing retirement applications during that time.

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.

(Image via bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock.com)

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