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OPM Runs Into Annual Retirement Surge

Nearly 15,000 workers opted to leave federal service in January, in line with previous years.

Although the number of federal employees decreased by nearly 13,000 in the first year of the Trump administration, that shift has not made a significant impact on the Office of Personnel Management’s retirement processing efforts. Over the last year, monthly retirement claims remained mostly in line with previous years, and last month was no different.

In January, 14,590 employees filed retirement claims with OPM. That number is down slightly from the same period in 2017, when 15,317 people made retirement requests, while 15,423 people filed new claims in the first month of 2016.

In December, OPM tried to prepare for the annual January surge, processing more than 10,000 claims despite receiving only 5,568 requests. The agency slowed down its efforts somewhat last month, processing 8,638 claims and bringing the backlog to 20,467.

Those statistics mark an improvement over last year’s surge, when there were more than 23,000 outstanding retirement requests at the end of January. For that period, OPM only processed 7,327 claims, more than 1,000 fewer than the agency completed last month.

In the early days of the Trump administration, some predicted a spike in retirement claims triggered by President Trump’s election and his policies. But that never materialized, and even numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that the 12,900 who left government in 2017 amount to fewer than in the first years of presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Clinton.

The annual surge in retirement requests caused a slight uptick in the average processing time for new claims on a monthly basis, which in January was 63 days, up from 60 at the end of 2017. The average time to process a claim on a fiscal year to date basis remained static at 63 days.

Despite the apparent normalcy of federal retirement data as borne out by OPM’s backlog, the agency could still have tumult in the coming year. The Trump administration is expected to propose a pay freeze for all civilian federal employees in 2019. And the White House’s fiscal 2019 budget request and release of agencies’ long-awaited reorganization plans—both slated for release this month—could mark a renewed effort to shrink the size of government and the federal workforce.