In November, the federal government’s retirement backlog fell to its lowest point in the last twelve months, while processing times also shortened significantly.
According to fresh data reported by the Office of Personnel Management, the agency shaved off about a week from its monthly processing times, meaning the average case took 66 days last month.
The overall number of pending cases also shrunk about 5% to 15,826 cases, still about 3,000 cases above OPM’s target level. The agency also received fewer applications in November than it did October.
Since January, OPM has dramatically improved how long the average retiree must wait for their application to be finalized. With some slowdowns along the way, OPM is well below the 85-plus days it was taking to process files this time last year.
Still, retirees have complained that waiting even two months without any updates from the office is frustrating and can put a strain on their budgets. It’s why OPM has set targets for its inventory and processing times, and why Congress has repeatedly checked in to see how things are progressing. While the agency has received fewer new claims in the last few months, that number is almost surely to increase as OPM enters peak retirement season in January and February.
Meanwhile, the agency has been working on a multiyear effort to modernize its retirement system, from updating legacy information technology to ensuring there is an adequate staff in place to serve the aging federal workforce’s demand for benefits.
The agency’s 2024 budget requests funds to expand a case management system to include additional digital cases.
Year to date, the top level inventory is down about 33% from January. According to Fed Manager, at the end of September, the backlog hit a six-year low at 15,852.
Consistent with the last two months, roughly 17% of all applications had errors in them, according to OPM.
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.