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OPM delays goal to eliminate pension claims backlog

Aug. 5, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Ken Zawodny, OPM's associate director of retirement services
Ken Zawodny, OPM's associate director of retirement services ()

The Office of Personnel Management missed its goal last month of eliminating a backlog of new retirement claims and of processing most new retirees’ first full pension checks within 60 days.

The 7,724 new retirement claims processed last month marked an 11 percent drop from the June total and was down by almost half since February, when OPM processed more than 15,300 new retirement claims, according to statistics released by OPM Monday. The backlog of pending claims rose slightly last month to 25,601, up from 25,542 the previous month.

The drop reflects the continuing repercussions of a sequester-related budget crunch that forced OPM’s retirement services office to end employee overtime at the end of April.

In January 2012, then-OPM Director John Berry set a target for eliminating the existing claims backlog by last month and processing 90 percent of retirees’ first full pension checks with 60 days of leaving government service. At that point, OPM was taking more than 150 days to process the average new claim; that time has since fallen to about 90 days.

On Monday, OPM revised its schedule for achieving those goals. It now says it will eliminate the backlog by March and hit the 60-day processing target by next May on the assumption that the agency will be able to restart overtime for retirement services employees on Oct. 1 when the new fiscal year begins.

At present, however, it is far from certain whether Congress will approve the administration’s request for an 8 percent funding increase for OPM’s retirement services division in fiscal 2014.

In an interview Friday, Ken Zawodny, associate director for retirement services, could not say how the agency’s latest timetable to improve retirement claims processing will be affected if overtime cannot resume in October.

“I have to be optimistic that we will obtain our budget,” Zawodny said. He also said OPM has taken some steps on its own to improve performance, such as reorganizing retirement services employees, in order to cut the average claims processing time by 40 percent since the beginning of last year. In the updated plan, OPM cited U.S. Postal Service early-out programs that added more 20,000 claims to the agency’s workload a another reason for its failure to hit the 60-day processing goal.

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