The Office of Personnel Management’s processing of pension claims fell 19 percent in May — the first full month since the agency halted all overtime in its retirement services division.
In April, OPM processed 13,582 retirement claims, which represented its third-most productive ever. But on April 28, OPM eliminated all retirement services overtime due to the sequester’s budget cuts. And in May, OPM processed 10,954 claims — 546 fewer than OPM expected to process last month.
OPM said the overtime cuts were necessary to avoid having to furlough employees, as the sequester has forced other agencies to. But OPM warned that the overtime cuts would likely mean pensions would take longer to calculate, and could reverse some of the progress the agency has made since early 2012 in clearing out a longstanding backlog of unprocessed pension claims.
The number of new pension claims received in May was also below expectations. OPM expected to receive 8,000 claims in May, but only 7,084 employees actually retired.
That helped the overall backlog of unprocessed claims drop to a record low of 26,210 — about 43 percent of the 61,108-case backlog OPM held in January 2012, when it began a sweeping effort to fix the pension problem.
OPM has struggled for two decades to fix its sluggish pension processing system, which left retirees waiting months — sometimes more than a year — for their full pensions. Former OPM Director John Berry enacted a plan that involved hiring and training more staff to process claims, dramatically increasing the use of overtime, and streamlining how OPM’s retirement services division does business.