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Federal Employee Retirement Requests Hit Highest Level Since Trump Took Office

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The number of new federal employee retirement claims in January marked the most in a single month under the Trump administration, according to statistics from the Office of Personnel Management released Wednesday.

Last month, 17,134 federal workers filed for retirement. Although January traditionally is marked by a surge of retirement claims, that figure still towers over the same month in previous years. Last year, there were 10,792 new claims; in January 2018, 14,590 feds made retirement requests; and in 2017 there were 15,317 new requests.

The avalanche of new claims meant that the backlog of pending retirement requests also spiked to 23,983. That figure has only been eclipsed once during the Trump administration: in February 2018, the backlog hit 24,225 pending claims.

Despite the high backlog statistic, OPM processed more claims than in previous Januarys. Although in the last three years, the agency’s best January performance was 8,638 in 2018, the agency completed 10,059 requests last month. As a result, the monthly average processing time for a retirement claim dropped a full eight days from 66 in December 2019 to 58 in January.

For years, government observers have worried about the potential for a retirement wave, as the federal workforce ages and more workers become eligible for retirement. In fiscal 2018, the number of retirement claims increased 24%, although the retirement rate has fallen somewhat since then.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department this week highlighted a new benefit enacted as part of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act: expanded tuition assistance for military families.

Until last December, the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship, a program that offers $4,000 in tuition for a license, certification or associate degree for spouses of military service members, could only be used toward 170 careers across 13 defined fields.

But with the new defense policy bill, enacted by President Trump in December 2019, military spouses can pursue any occupation or career, provided the spouse, school and an approved career coach develop an education and training plan to outline a “clear career path.”

"These expansions are part of a comprehensive suite of services that connect military spouses to education and employment opportunities, as well as support throughout relocations, deployments and the transitions inherent to military life," said Joseph Ludovici, principal director for military community and family policy at the Defense Department.