Upsurge in February retirements causes backlog to balloon

Tuesday - 3/5/2013, 4:48pm EST

The number of federal employees filing retirement claims last month spiked to more than 20,000 — nearly four times what the Office of Personnel Management projected, according to new OPM data released Tuesday.

The 20,374 retirement claims filed by federal employees in February is more than the number of claims filed in October, November and December of last year combined. OPM expected to receive 5,600 claims last month.

While retirements typically surge in January, recent history has shown they settle back down in the succeeding months. After a similar 20,000-claim surge last January, just 6,415 feds filed for retirement in February 2012.

However, last month clearly bucked that trend. The February spike follows more than 22,000 retirement applications filed by feds in January.

OPM also beat its processing goals last month, closing out the paperwork on 15,333 claims when it had originally expected to process 11,500 claims.

But the unexpected surge in February retirements contributed to a sharp rise in the number of backlogged claims — from 29,478 at the end of December to more than 41,103 by the end of Feburary. Last month also marked the first time since OPM unveiled its new retirement-processing efforts more than a year ago that the backlog grew beyond OPM's projections. OPM had expected to cut the backlog to a little more than 33,000 by the end of February.

Next month, OPM expects to receive 5,000 retirement claims and to process 11,500 of them. By September, according to the agency's strategic plan, OPM had hoped to eliminate the backlog entirely and to begin processing 90 percent of most retirement claims within 60 days.

The unexpected upsurge in February retirements puts OPM's retirement-processing team behind the curve, although it's not unimaginable that a few slower months later in the year could help get the agency back on track in its processing efforts. In five months last year (mostly in the late spring and summer), OPM actually received fewer claims than projected.

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