The inventory of unprocessed federal retirement claims jumped 15% last month, according to data kept and updated monthly by the Office of Personnel Management.

After several months that showed steady improvements in reducing the backlog, a wave of 12,000 new claims were filed in January, indicative of the peak retirement season OPM usually encounters each year.

Average monthly retirement processing times also increased by a few days in January after falling in December, meaning wait times are clocking in at three months, 30 days above OPM’s goal. The office also OPM processed 18% more cases in January over the month prior.

February’s retirement numbers will also be telling of whether OPM is dealing with a surge in retirement requests. A report by the Government Accountability Office said the offices receive the bulk of applications starting in mid-January and that continues through February.

There are more than $83 billion worth of annual annuity payments made to nearly 2.7 million federal beneficiaries. Agency HR and payroll offices create retirement application packages, which are then sent to OPM for processing.

More than 114,500 federal workers retired in the government fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up from about 97,000 the year before, according to data. That’s the largest retirement exodus since 2013.

Meanwhile, OPM’s retirement backlog is at one of its highest levels since 2014, according to its inspector general. The agency’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan “does not contain a specific goal related to retirement services’ case processing,” though parts of the previous plan noted a goal to bring processing times down to 60 days or less, a benchmark that is yet to be consistently met.

“Legacy systems and manual processes that we have identified in previous ... reports continue to contribute to customer service issues by increasing the backlog of cases and long processing times that make interim payments necessary,” the OIG report said.

Inadequate staffing levels is also an issue for the agency, especially during high-demand times.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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