Coming off a surge of retirements this winter, the federal government’s HR office slowed its processing of incoming applications from soon-to-be annuitants last month.

After greenlighting retirement applications at a record clip in January, the pace has cooled in the three months since. In April, the latest month for which data is available, the average case took 61 days, compared to 47 in February. The Office of Personnel Management processed about 30% fewer cases in April than it did the month before.

The office’s backlog, which at one point was well over 25,000 cases has stabilized for the last two months around 16,000 cases, still about 3,000 cases above OPM’s stated goal.

OPM has been working to take control of its unwieldy retirement system for years, with understaffing and physical paperwork bogging down the process. In 2023, roughly 89,000 employees filed for retirement, with the bulk of them doing so at the beginning of the year.

To help cope, OPM has previously told Federal Times it brought on more staff to its retirement services division, particularly during high-volume season, and it has rolled out a number of digital tools to divert repeat queries overwhelming the help line.

Still, true modernization of the technology underlying retirement is yet to be realized. OPM has requested funds in at least the last three fiscal years to support a fully online retirement application portal that one day may be able to track the status of a package as it bounces between the retiree, the employing agency and OPM.

“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,” the agency said in its 2023 financial report.

Meanwhile, some feds have expressed frustration with the time it takes for them to get their retirement package over the finish line. Surveys show satisfaction with retirement services is roughly the same as it was four years ago, despite the retirement claims backlog reaching a six-year low last year.

In all, for fiscal 2025, OPM is requesting $10.7 million in no-year authority to modernize “decades of technology debt related to personnel, enterprise infrastructure, and operations.”

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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