Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry says the 8,749 retirement claims processed in January represent a 20 percent increase over the same month last year. (File)
The Office of Personnel Management says it's making gains in its ability to process new retirement pension claims, despite a growing backlog.
In January, the agency processed 8,749 retirement claims in January — a figure OPM Director John Berry said represents a 20 percent increase over the same month last year.
But that figure also represents a small fraction of total retirement pensions claims filed in January: 21,479, which is 479 more than it had expected. That increase helped bring the backlog of unprocessed retirement claims to 61,108, up 26 percent from 48,378 in December 2011.
The updated statistics were included in OPM's first report to Congress on the backlog, which was http://www.opm.gov/StrategicPlan/pdf/RetirementProcessingStatus.pdf">posted online Monday night. At a Senate hearing last week on the backlog, Berry pledged to update Congress on the fifth day of every month.
OPM has come under harsh criticism for its inability to fix the longstanding problem of delayed pension payments to new federal retirees. Tens of thousands of federal retirees wait months for their complete annuities — some for more than a year — and in the meantime have to get by on reduced interim pensions. OPM says the interim pensions now average 80 percent of the full pension, but new retirees some receive much less.
Berry last month released a strategic plan outlining how he plans to fix retirement processing, and pledged to make it his top priority this year.
Monday's report contains monthly projections on how many claims OPM expects to receive and process every month through July 2013. By then, OPM expects the backlog will be cut to 12,978 cases.
OPM expects to process 8,300 cases each month from February to April, and then 8,500 cases monthly in May and June. But beginning in July, when OPM expects to have hired and fully trained 56 new legal administrative specialists, the agency expects it will be able to process 11,500 cases monthly.
Berry said that January's efficiency increase shows improvements already in place are yielding results. OPM recently rehired eight experienced retirees to process retirements, which Berry said helped improve productivity.
OPM is projecting a slight decrease in retirements for the rest of fiscal 2012. OPM expects 86,479 retirements from January through October. But OPM received 92,025 retirement claims in the first 10 months of 2011.