OPM Director John Berry's efforts to cut the pension processing backlog may be undermined if the surge in federal employee retirement applications continues through 2012. (Staff)
Federal employee retirement applications in 2011 spiked 24 percent over the previous year, according to new statistics from the Office of Personnel Management.
In all, 104,810 employees put in their retirement papers in 2011, up from 84,427 in 2010.
The increase was largely driven by a wave of buyouts and early retirements offered throughout 2011. Some employees also may have decided to retire because of the ongoing two-year pay scale freeze and numerous proposals to cut federal retirement benefits.
The surge has swelled a backlog of retirement applications awaiting processing at OPM. The result is tens of thousands of new retirees are getting partial pension checks for many months — in some cases more than a year — as the agency scrambles to calculate their correct pension amounts.
Retirements surged particularly in the months of July, October and December. Retirements in December alone shot up 49 percent over the previous year to 7,041 applications. That increase is partly due to a large round of buyouts and early retirements at the Air Force that ended Dec. 31 and cut staffing by 1,054 employees.
Retirements continued to surge in January: There were 21,479 applications, 479 more than OPM expected. That represented a 9 percent increase over January 2011 and a 34 percent increase over January 2010. January is traditionally the busiest month for federal retirements.
If the surge continues, it will almost certainly undermine OPM Director John Berry's effort to cut the pension processing backlog of more than 61,000 cases. OPM is under increasing pressure from lawmakers and federal retiree groups to show progress on that problem.
OPM in December released statistics for the first 10 months of 2011, but November, December and January numbers were released Wednesday.