The Office of Personnel Management is gearing up for the annual rush of retirement applications from federal workers over the next two months in a strong position after reducing its processing backlog by 34% in 2023.

Federal employees filed nearly 89,000 retirement applications during the year, the bulk of which were submitted in January. Despite near-annual warnings of an impending retirement “wave,” that’s significantly less than 103,000 employees who retired in 2022.

Having fewer total claims to process may have helped OPM make progress on further reducing the number of pending cases. At the end of December, OPM was sitting on roughly 14,200 cases — the lowest number all year. The agency was able to process 19% more cases in December than November, though it took slightly longer, on average, to do so, month over month.

Year to date, an average case now takes 69 days to finalize from start to finish, down from 90 days at the beginning of 2023.

Despite sustained progress over the last few months, OPM still hasn’t met its goal of keeping its total inventory under 13,000 cases and processing most retirements in 60 days or less. That will be a focus for the agency in the year ahead, though performance may be strained from now until spring as the agency customarily receives a large number of retirements after the holiday season.

“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,” said Director Kiran Ahuja in a memo on Nov. 3. “OPM is also working to develop a digital processing system built for the twenty-first century.”

If last year is any indication, retirements peaked in the winter and didn’t drop back down significantly until May. The year before, the backlog grew by about 20,000 cases from December to March.

Retirees who spoke to Federal Times about the inaugural retirement survey said employees who file for annuities around this time should expect things to be slower than usual, especially if the government shuts down come Jan. 19.

Retirement services will still be operational, but a lapse in appropriations can delay or disrupt communications on a retirees’ case.

Additionally, there were fewer errors in retirement packages overall last month. About 14% of all files have a problem that needs to be fixed, per OPM data.

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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