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New retirements slow, OPM gains on pension backlog

Employee OT boosts processing

Sep. 5, 2013 - 05:21PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
In August, the Office of Personnel Management processed 10,955 claims from recent retirees, up more than 40 percent from the July total.
In August, the Office of Personnel Management processed 10,955 claims from recent retirees, up more than 40 percent from the July total. (Staff)

The Office of Personnel Management’s processing of new pension claims showed sharp improvement in August, buoyed by a resumption of employee overtime in the agency’s retirement services division, according to new data.

In August, OPM processed 10,955 claims from recent retirees, up more than 40 percent from the July total. The backlog of pending claims fell from about 25,600 to 22,750, the lowest point since at least July 2012. An OPM report on the retirement figures released last week said a year-end budget review had allowed retirement services to resume “limited overtime” last month.

Although sequester-related budget cuts had forced OPM to suspend retirement services overtime at the end of April, the agency was able last month to tap funds freed up by an early-out program, Kenneth Zawodny, the division’s associate director, indicated in a statement, adding that it can continue to pay for extra hours through the end of the fiscal year this month.

“At this point, we do not know how much this will impact the backlog and retirement processing efforts,” Zawodny said.

Also helping to improve overall performance was a lower-than-expected influx of new claims. OPM had predicted that it would receive 8,400 pension applications last month; the actual number was about 8,100. After spiking early this year, the number of new claims has fallen below agency forecasts in four of the last five months.

In January 2012, then-OPM Director John Berry set a target for eliminating the retirement claims backlog by July of this year and for processing 90 percent of retirees’ first full pension checks within 60 days of their leaving government service. At that point, OPM was taking more than 150 days to process the average new claim — that figure has since shortened to about 90 days. But in late April, OPM suspended overtime for retirement services staff following the imposition of sequester-related budget cuts.

Last month, OPM officials pushed back the timetable for meeting its original targets. On the assumption that retirement services can keep paying overtime after the new fiscal year starts next month, the agency now says it will eliminate the backlog by next March and hit the 60-day processing target by May.

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