OPM reduces the retirement backlog by one-third in 2023
The federal government’s HR agency’s work on improving the retirement application process for federal workers led to the agency shattering yet another longstanding record last month.
The Office of Personnel Management made some of its best progress at reducing the number of pending retirement applications from federal workers last year, reducing the backlog by 34% in 2023 and breaking multiple recent records in the process.
Long a source of frustration for the governmental HR agency, lawmakers and retirees alike, OPM’s inventory of pending retirement claims has been plagued by delays due to the still largely paper-based nature of federal employment records, staffing issues and other challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of these issues, as the backlog climbed to a high of more than 36,000 pending claims in March 2022.
But OPM moved on multiple fronts last year to improve the process. The agency released its long-awaited IT strategic plan, which includes plans to develop a “digital retirement system,” complete with electronic records and an online retirement application process.
And officials launched a series of short-term fixes aimed at shoring up the current system, including a guide for retirees to follow as they navigate the retirement process, as well as staffing up and coordinating more actively with federal agencies to prepare for the annual wave of new retirement claims that occurs between January and March.
That work appears already to be bearing fruit. At the end of 2023, the inventory of pending retirement claims sat at 14,292, a decrease of more than 1,500 cases compared with November and a 34% decrease from the total at the end of 2022, when the backlog was 21,596 claims.
And for the fourth time in 2023, OPM again shattered its six-year record low in the retirement backlog, this time beating the record set during December 2017, when the inventory of pending claims sat at 14,515.
However, part of the reason OPM has been able to make so much progress has been a lighter than normal load of new claims. In fiscal 2023, the agency received 88,957 retirement claims, the lowest number since fiscal 2011, when 82,837 federal workers retired. The biggest test of OPM’s upgrades to the retirement process will be the next three months.
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