Even as federal retirements continue declining, OPM processing nosedives

Thursday - 12/5/2013, 5:32pm EST

The number of federal employees filing for retirement is on a downward swing. For the fifth month in a row, fewer federal employees than expected filed for retirement, according to new data from the Office of Personnel Management.

In November, the number of retirement claims received by OPM fell to fewer than 5,700, the smallest number in nearly a year, and the seventh time in the last eight months that the number of retirements fell below projections.

The agency had expected about 8,400 employees to file for retirement last month.

The drop in retirements stands in sharp contrast to earlier this year, when an unexpected surge of cases — about 50 percent more than OPM expected in the first three months of the year — swamped the agency.

However, OPM's efforts at processing federal-employee retirement applications also nosedived last month.

OPM processed just 5,700 claims in November, less than half of what it predicted it would and nearly half the number of cases the agency cleared last month. It's the smallest number of claims processed since the agency began publishing monthly progress reports nearly two years ago.

Still, OPM maintains its efforts remain on track.

"Our goal is to process at least as many cases as we receive each month and to use extra processing capacity for surges," said Ken Zawodny, associate director of Retirement Services at OPM, in a statement provided to Federal News Radio.

The longstanding backlog of retirement claims fell by just 42 cases last month. However, the overall number of claims in the backlog — about 14,000 — is still almost 2,000 cases fewer than OPM expected at this point. Overall this year, the backlog has fallen by more than 65 percent since it hit a peak of about 41,000 cases in February.

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster year for OPM's retirement-processing efforts.

Earlier this year, the agency announced that because of the across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, it would have to cut back on the use of overtime by employees who work processing retirement claims. That led to a dip in the number of cases the agency was able clear over the summer months and caused OPM to revise its goal for reducing the backlog from this past summer to March of next year.

OPM was able to restore limited overtime in August thanks to a year-end budget review, agency officials said at the time. In the last few months, OPM has consistently processed nearly 11,000 claims a month. Now, though, OPM is only using overtime to process additional cases if the monthly workload outpaces the agency's capabilities to process cases in a timely manner. With the backlog below expectations, OPM did not use overtime in November.

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