After the federal government’s pending retirement cases hit a record low in September, the Office of Personnel Management reported its inventory crept back up in October.

The average number of days it takes for the office, which finalizes retirement packages and oversees annuitant benefits, to process a claim hovered around 70 in the last three few months, an improvement over last year when processing exceeded 90 days.

Still, the agency processed 2,700 fewer cases last month despite intaking roughly the same number of new cases as it did the month before.

It’s not unusual for the agency’s progress to fluctuate from month to month, though the good news is fiscal year-to-date, processing time has steadily improved. And while the topline inventory of 16,600 cases increased 5% in October and remains above the goal of 13,000, it’s, too, has shrunk overall in the last year.

OPM’s goal remains to process most cases in two months, which may prove a challenge as the agency heads into the winter months — a popular time of year for employees to file their retirement that lasts through March.

“OPM, in partnership with Congress, is increasing staff capacity and streamlining processes to continue to reduce our inventory and monthly processing times in the short term,” the agency said in a November memo.

OPM asked agencies to estimate how many retirement applications they’ll receive in the coming months to help inform workloads.

Director Kiran Ahuja also said in the memo that on average, a quarter of all retirement application packages include errors that slow down the processes and further delay benefits.

To help employees navigate that process and answer commonly asked questions, the agency introduced a self-help guide, along with an early pilot version of a chatbot.

OPM makes monthly payments to 2.7 million retirement annuitants worth $90 billion a year.

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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