The Office of Personnel Management’s inventory of unprocessed retirement claims dropped by 10 percent in October — the largest monthly percentage drop so far this year.
OPM had 41,176 unprocessed claims at the end of September. But in the latest batch of statistics released Monday, OPM said its backlog dropped to 37,086 by the end of October — the lowest in 2012, and a 39 percent drop from the 61,108 unprocessed cases recorded in January. OPM’s backlog is now nearly 4 percent lower than it expected back in January.
For years, OPM has struggled to quickly and accurately process new retirees’ pensions. As a result, tens of thousands of new retirees wait months — or in some cases, more than a year — to receive their complete annuities. In the meantime, they struggle to get by on reduced interim pensions that are sometimes half of what they are owed.
OPM Director John Berry in January released a plan to fix the longstanding problem, which included hiring 56 new legal administrative specialists to process more claims and streamlining its methods. Berry predicted that by July, when the new employees’ training was completed, the agency would be able to process an additional 3,000 claims per month.
The latest numbers suggest Berry’s plan is working, and the agency is maintaining high levels of productivity. Since July, OPM has processed an average of 12,240 cases per month — about 2,700 cases more than the roughly 9,500 it averaged for the first six months of 2012.
OPM also was helped by a dip in retirements last month. While the 8,138 claims the agency received in October was higher than the 7,000 it planned on, it was lower than the nearly 12,000 retirement claims filed in September. Federal employees have been retiring in greater numbers in recent years, which is increasing OPM’s workload and complicating its efforts to tame the retirement claims backlog.