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Pension application backlog falls

Apr. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
OPM is making progress on reducing its retirement claims backlog.
OPM is making progress on reducing its retirement claims backlog. (Sheila Vemmer/staff)

The backlog of pending pension claims at the Office of Personnel Management fell in March, in part from an increase in applications processed, according to numbers released April 7 by the Office of Personnel Management.

OPM received 6,831 retirement claims in March — not much higher than the projected 6,400. The agency was able to process 11,812 — significantly more than the projected 10,400, according to OPM.

The agency had gradually been able to make inroads into its pension backlog before reaching a low in December at about 12,637. But that number nearly doubled over the last two months to 23,554 before falling in March.

Katherine Archuleta, director of OPM, said in a March 24 blog post the agency has made “significant improvements” in speeding up pension processing over the last year, and the backlog of claims was reduced 71 percent from January 2012 to September 2013. The average time to process a new retirement claim was 61 days — down from 91 days in July 2013 and 156 days in December 2011, according to Archuleta.

“Process improvements achieved through the hard work of our RS employees and strategic efforts have allowed for this reduction in inventory,” Archuleta said.

Archuleta said the agency has also begun a transition to a digital processing system and will be implementing a digital case management system to help process retirement claims.

But OPM is under pressure from lawmakers to do even better.

Senators Jon Tester, D-Mont., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said OPM has taken an average of 61 days to process applications for nearly 30 years, adding to the cost and forcing retirees to wait months for full pension payments. The senators pointed to failed attempts to modernize pension processing systems in 1987 and in 2008, which cost the government a combined $131 million. New attempts must come with accountability and strong oversight, they wrote.

“For almost 30 years, the modernization process has encountered a cycle of attempts and failures because of repeated project mismanagement and a lack of proper oversight,” the senators wrote in the letter. “This egregious waste needs to stop.”

Related: Senators press OPM for accountability on pension processing

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