Retirements among federal workers surged in February. (Katie Vanes / Navy)
The federal retirement wave is regaining steam — possibly due to the sequester — government retirement statistics released Tuesday suggest.
In February, 20,374 federal employees retired — the highest total for that month since at least 2010, the earliest year for which monthly statistics are available, and more than three times the number of feds who put in their retirement papers in February 2012, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
With the 22,187 retirements recorded in January, 42,561 federal employees have retired in just the first two months of 2013. That is more than half of the 84,427 feds who retired in 2010, and 40 percent of the 106,550 feds who retired in 2012.
OPM had predicted about 5,600 feds would retire last month. The unexpected surge caused its backlog of unprocessed pension claims to swell by about 5,000, to 41,103 claims. OPM had hoped its backlog would be down to slightly more than 33,000 by last month. February was the first month in which OPM fell behind its backlog goals since it began tracking those statistics in January 2012.
But OPM showed progress in its efforts to process more retirement claims. Its employees processed 15,333 claims in February, which smashed its previous monthly record of 12,563 claims processed. That previous high was set in September.
OPM has struggled for years to speed up its processing of retirement claims, which has caused some retirees to wait six months or more for their full pensions. OPM Director John Berry unveiled last year a sweeping plan to fix the problem, which included hiring new employees to process claims and an overhaul of its customer service and pension processing systems.
Federal experts say that the constant stream of bad news for federal employees in recent years is likely driving this retirement wave. Federal employees’ pay scales have been frozen for more than two years and are likely to stay frozen for the rest of 2013. President Obama, lawmakers and deficit reduction committees have proposed increasing federal employees’ retirement contributions. Some lawmakers and others recommending ways to reduce the deficit have also proposed switching federal employees’ pensions to a high-five system, which would base pensions on their highest five annual salaries instead of the current three years.
The sequester’s budget cuts also are likely to cause hundreds of thousands of federal employees to be furloughed.