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Retirement Claims Backlog is Down Now, But It’s About to Spike

OPM expects its inventory to grow by nearly 10,000 applications after January influx.

The Office of Personnel Management reduced its backlog of retirement applications by 2,370 claims in December, the most it has processed in a single month since March 2014.

The backlog, which has plagued the agency for decades, is now at 11,669 retirement claims. It’s about to get worse, though: OPM typically sees an influx of new retirement claims every year in January and February. The agency is expecting 19,000 new applications this month, increasing the inventory to 21,642 claims. In January 2014, OPM received 17,383 new claims, which added to the existing backlog considerably.

The fact that OPM received fewer claims in December than it expected probably helped. The agency predicted 5,600 new applications, 4,077 claims actually came in, and OPM managed to process 6,447 claims during December. October’s sudden influx of retirement claims – 10,155 new applications that month alone – increased the backlog by nearly 1,400 claims and reversed steady progress that the agency made over the summer. The spike in new applications in October was partially due to a buyout at the U.S. Postal Service.

After making progress earlier this year on eliminating the retirement claims backlog, the Office of Personnel Management is doing slightly better than it was at this time last year, according to the latest statistics. In December 2013, the claims backlog stood at 12,637 claims – 968 more applications than the current inventory.

OPM originally attempted to eliminate the backlog by the summer of 2013, but sequestration forced the agency to scale back its ambitions. If the agency can’t eliminate the backlog over the next nine months, it risks running into the same problem when sequestration returns in full effect in fiscal 2016.

Clearing up the retirement claims backlog has been an ongoing struggle for OPM and a constant source of frustration for federal retirees and members of Congress, who still are hearing complaints from their constituents about slow turnaround for their benefits. 

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