Retirement claims hit highest level since January

Wednesday - 9/5/2012, 5:50pm EDT

Federal employees submitted nearly 9,000 retirement claims in August — more than in any other month besides January, which typically sees a wave of feds taking retirement.

The Office of Personnel Management received 8,973 retirement claims in August, nearly a thousand more than it projected. The agency processed 11,896 claims, also surpassing its goals.

The backlog, which now stands at 41,787 claims, is 32 percent below where it was at its height at the end of January.

OPM has consistently hit its processing goals, even as the number of claims has steadily inched up. The only month in which OPM fell short was April, despite receiving fewer claims than projected.

Since May, the number of federal employees submitting retirement claims has continued to grow each month.

OPM, however, predicts a drop — to 7,000 claims — for September. The agency projects it will process 11,500 next month.

The growing backlog of retirement claims and the long wait faced by retirees for full benefits has long plagued the agency. In late 2011, OPM Director John Berry announced an "all-hands-on-deck" approach to cutting the backlog, later announcing the agency would upgrade technology and hire new staff.

By September 2013, OPM estimates it will have eliminated the backlog entirely, allowing it to process most new claims in a 60-day timeframe.

In the meantime, some Federal News Radio readers have suggested OPM's customer service has suffered as it cuts the backlog.

"Employees in the retirement office do not return telephone calls or respond to emails," said one Federal News Radio reader, who said he retired in October 2011. "I have visited OPM in two instances and could not get any information about my case."

According to an OPM spokeswoman, the agency has a plan to reduce the retirement claims backlog.

"Our goal is to reduce the backlog by July 2013, which will then allow us to process 90 percent of cases within 60 days," she said. "OPM retirement services receives 1.5 - 1.8 million calls a year. We strive to return calls within 24 hours."

For faster service, the spokeswoman encouraged customers to check out OPM's online tool before they call.

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