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Retirement wave slows at year’s end

Jan. 7, 2013 - 01:16PM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
OPM Director John Berry has made improving the retirement cliams process his top priority.
OPM Director John Berry has made improving the retirement cliams process his top priority. (File)

The retirement wave of federal employees started off strong in 2012, but it slowed considerably toward the end of the year.

In all, 106,550 federal employees submitted retirement claims to the Office of Personnel Management last year. That is 1.7 percent above the 104,810 claims submitted in 2011, and 26 percent above the 84,427 retirements recorded in 2010.

For the first five months of 2012, the retirement rate looked as if it would be much higher. Between January and May, 49,277 federal employees submitted claims — 6.5 percent above the same period in 2011.

But from June to December, the number of retirements fell 2 percent year over year. In December, 5,152 employees submitted retirement claims — far less than the 7,000 OPM had expected, and a 27 percent decline from the 7,041 retirements in December 2011.

OPM also made considerable progress in processing new retirees’ pensions last year, finishing 2012 with a backlog of 26,402 unfinished claims. That is a 45 percent decline from the December 2011 backlog of 48,378, and a 57 percent decline from the 61,108-claim backlog in January 2012. OPM expected to have a backlog of 29,478 claims.

OPM processed 10,454 pension claims last month. That was better than what OPM was doing in the first half of 2012 — when it was processing an average 9,500 claims per month — but still below the roughly 12,000 claims it was processing each month, on average, from July to November.

While OPM is in a much better place than it was a year ago, this month is almost certain to set its claims processers back considerably. January always records the highest number of retirements, and last year, 21,479 feds submitted their claims. OPM expects another 21,000 to retire this month, and it expects to process 11,500 claims.

OPM has struggled for years to quickly process new retirees’ pension claims, and many wait for months to get their full payment. OPM Director John Berry last year made improving the process his top priority and put into place a plan that involved hiring more employees to process claims and streamlining the agency’s methods for preparing case files and answering customer service questions.

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