The Office of Personnel Management slashed the amount of time it takes to process federal employee retirement claims to the quickest pace on record, according to data kept by the agency.
The office shaved off almost a month from its processing time to 65 days in February, getting closer than it has in months to its goal of 60 days, the data show.
A month prior, it was taking on average 93 days to finalize retirement claims. The office’s target is 60 days and that goal has not been met since at least 2021.
In February, the agency also received nearly 3,000 fewer claims and processed about 1,778 more claims. The overall inventory decreased 5% but remains well above the goal of 13,000 cases at any given time. OPM said that for cases processed in less than 60 days, on average took 27 days to complete. Cases that took more than 60 days, on average, took 135 days to complete.
The winter months are a popular time for federal workers to retire, and this year is no exception. Historically, a surge of applications come through OPM’s office between January and February, with the increased workload lasting until mid-April.
OPM, which administers the federal retirement program, has been working to reduce its processing time and retirement claim inventory backlog for years.
More than 114,500 federal workers retired in the government fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up from about 97,000 the year before, according to data. That’s the largest retirement exodus since 2013.
Republicans in Congress have fired shots at OPM for its backlogs, which they say indicate “a taxpayer-funded federal government that doesn’t provide services in a timely manner,” according to lawmakers during a March 9 House oversight committee hearing.
That has been a point of criticism also aimed at telework, as House Republicans have pushed through legislation for require federal agencies to return to pre-pandemic schedules, while Democrats have defended the use of telework as a recruitment and retention tool.
“While the Capitol and Congressional office buildings have reopened to the public and are back to in-person work, the same cannot be said for large portions of the federal government,” said James Comer (R-Ky.). “Unfortunately, casework backlogs and slow response times have become routine complaints since the pandemic.”
“We have had challenges and we absolutely can do better,” said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja. “We are working through those processes … I made a commitment to focus on retirement services.”
Ahuja said in her testimony before the committee that OPM is working to achieve full digitization, which can’t happen without sustained funding.
OPM plans to pilot an online retirement application for employees that will integrate with payroll data and e-signatures.
And to help with questions that roll in from current retirees, OPM said it’s focusing on staffing its call center, improving the breadth of online information, developing a chat bot and being more proactive with retirees about the status of their retirement applications.
The President’s 2024 budget proposes $6.6 million to help reduce retirement processing times and fund additional IT modernization initiatives akin to a case management system.
The federal retirement program covers nearly 2.8 million active employees and more than 2.7 million annuitants and their family members.
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.