The federal government again processed a high number of retirement applications last month, even though its overall pace slowed.

In March, the Office of Personnel Management packaged 680 more cases than it did the month before and took in about 850 fewer applications, chopping the backlog by 14%. The rate of processing was slightly slower than in February, but the average case is still being processed in roughly two months or less, which is OPM’s goal, according to the data.

This is a busy time of year for OPM as it received a surge of applications in the winter and will be working through them throughout the spring.

For now, the retirement backlog stands at 16,800 — about 3,800 cases above the goal.

On the whole, retirees should be getting their retirement packages turned around more quickly, given OPM has shaved about three weeks off processing times compared to 2022 and 2023. Individual cases that need special attention or have errors will take longer, however, and retirees are encouraged to make sure their applications are fully completed to expedite the process.

The federal retirement process that churns out more than 100,000 applications each year has been under a lot of pressure to be more efficient after the backlog rose to 60,000 claims in 2012. But with inventory still slightly above the goal more than a decade later, a group of bipartisan lawmakers wrote a letter to OPM last spring expressing concern with “excessive delays federal retirees in our states are facing as they wait to obtain their hard-earned retirement benefits.”

Since then, OPM has assured Congress and the public that its working on modernizing the underlying IT systems that take in retirement applications and clear them for payment. In its 2025 budget request, OPM said it wants to use artificial intelligence specifically to alleviate manual work for staff and get through routine claims more quickly. It also requests $3.1 million for mainframe upgrades before the existing system can transition to cloud technology.

“Challenges remain in retirement claims processing due to budget constraints, but OPM has taken and will continue to take proactive steps to further improve processing times,” OPM said in its 2023 audit.

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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