OPM retirement backlog hits six-year low for third time this year
The number of pending federal employee retirement claims fell under 16,000 for the second time since 2017 in November.
For the third time this year, the federal government’s backlog of pending retirement claims filed by departing federal workers hit a six-year low, as the Office of Personnel Management continues its focus on improving a process that has long pestered agencies and retirees alike.
OPM reported Tuesday that its retirement backlog fell to 15,826 pending cases at the end of November. That’s the second time the inventory fell below 16,000 this year, and the third time this year that the backlog reached a six-year record low, dating back to when it briefly felt to around 14,000 in 2017. OPM’s goal is a “steady state” of 13,000 pending claims at any given time.
In 2023, the retirement backlog has fallen in seven out of 11 months. Last month, the average processing time fell across multiple metrics. Measured on a monthly basis, the average processing time of a retirement claim fell from 73 days in October to 66 last month. And the average processing time so far this fiscal year—or since Oct. 1—fell from 73 at the end of last month to 69 days.
For years, the federal retirement process has been plagued by long wait times between when federal workers leave government and when they begin receiving their full annuities via the Federal Employee Retirement System or the Civil Service Retirement System, in part due to its heavily paper-based nature. But OPM earlier this year finally published an IT strategic plan that includes modernizing the process, including piloting a “digital retirement system” and digitizing paper records.
In the short term, the HR agency has looked for other ways to improve its processing time. Last May, OPM published a new “quick guide” to help federal workers navigate the retirement process, including a breakdown of what agencies are responsible for which parts of the process, a checklist of steps employees can take to ensure their application is error-free—human error is the No. 1 cause of elongated claims processing.
And last month, OPM highlighted new efforts to mitigate the impact of the surge in new retirement claims that the HR agency receives between January and March each year. The agency said it will increase “staff capacity” to help handle the spike in applications and urged agencies to improve their own HR processes to reduce unnecessary delays, including by sending OPM estimates of the number of anticipated retirement applications and by developing new processes to ensure claims are error-free before they are submitted.
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