John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, says fixing the pension processing backlog problem is now his top priority. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
The Office of Personnel Management's effort to fix its long-standing pension processing backlog is progressing faster than expected — even though many more feds have been retiring in recent months than expected.
OPM cut its claims backlog to 52,274 in March, a 14 percent drop since January, according to statistics the agency released Thursday. OPM originally expected its backlog to be 55,378 in March.
The agency also dealt with an unexpected spike in pension claims received. OPM got 7,090 claims last month, more than the 5,000 expected.
OPM processed 12,386 pension claims in March. That is a 40 percent increase in monthly processing since the agency began tracking numbers in January, and it is nearly 50 percent more than the 8,300 claims OPM expected it would process last month.
OPM has struggled for decades to process pension claims quickly and accurately. As a result, tens of thousands of new federal retirees wait months to receive their complete annuities — some for more than a year — and in the meantime they have to get by on reduced interim pensions. Some of those interim pensions are less than half of what retirees are owed. However, OPM says interim pensions now average 80 percent of what retirees are eventually owed.
OPM Director John Berry — who says fixing the problem is now his top priority — in January outlined a strategy to fix the problem once and for all through a combination of increased staffing, streamlined processes, improved information technology and better cooperation with other agencies. He told the Senate in February that he had rehired eight experienced retirees to process retirements. He is also granting overtime to processing specialists who prove they can swiftly and accurately adjudicate claims, and he is trying to take administrative duties off those specialists' hands so they can concentrate on processing claims.
OPM has received more claims than expected each month since January — and the difference is growing. In January, OPM received 479 more claims than expected, and in February, it received 815 more claims than expected. The 2,090 unanticipated claims received in March is the most so far.