Retirement backlog shrinks for first time this year

Monday - 4/7/2014, 12:02pm EDT

Thanks to better than expected progress in processing federal retirement claims last month, the Office of Personnel Management's backlog of pending claims is shrinking for the first time this year.

By the end of March, the number of backlogged claims shrank from more than 23,500 claims to about 18,500, according to new OPM data.

The backlog had swelled in January — typically the most popular time to retire — to more than 21,000 cases It grew again in February by more than 2,000 cases.

Last month, however, the agency cleared its highest number of cases since April 2013 — more than 11,800 claims. That's about 1,400 more than the agency projected.

About 6,800 federal employees filed for retirement last month, slightly more than the 6,400 OPM projected. In the previous month, about 12,000 federal employees filed for retirement.

However, the pace of federal retirements appears more modest this year compared to last. All told, some 36,000 federal employees have filed for retirement so far in 2014 — about 30 percent fewer than this time last year.

Retirement processing under scrutiny

OPM's better-than-expected processing performance comes about a month after the agency retooled the method it uses to calculate its retirement projections — the second time in less than a year the agency has revised its predictions.

OPM came under scrutiny last month with the publication of a Washington Post report called "Sinkhole of Bureaucracy," which cited the long series of failed efforts to modernize OPM's retirement-processing efforts. The system, by and large, remains a manual, paper-based system that takes place in a refurbished mine in Boyers, Pa.

However, OPM has also pointed to its successes. In a March 24 blog post, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said the backlog is now down nearly 70 percent from a peak of more than 61,000 cases in January 2012, when OPM launched its initial plan to shrink the backlog. As of February, the average time to process a new retirement claim is down to 61 days — less than half of what it was before OPM debuted its plan.

In April, OPM expects to receive about 6,500 claims and to process another 9,300. By that point, the agency expected to reduce the backlog to about 16,800 claims.

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