Pending retirement cases at the Office of Personnel Management hit the lowest point in at least two years last month, though the average retiree still needs to wait upward of two months for an application to clear.
OPM’s inventory has fallen steadily for five straight months following a surge in retirements cases in January. Still, the agency is about 3,000 cases above its target goal of 13,000 cases pending at any given time.
The office has maintained momentum after the annual spikes in retirements that occur at the beginning of each year, indicating that the tiger teams and use of overtime that OPM leveraged in recent months may be working to cut down a backlog that rose to more than 36,000 cases last year.
Since January of this year, the backlog is down 34%.
OPM received about 2,000 fewer claims in June than in May, which may have allowed the agency to expend resources toward the backlog.
Still, federal retirees are complaining of having to wait months for their annuities. OPM’s goal is to finalize a retirement in two months. In February, the agency got close at about 65 days, but since then time has increased to an average of 74 days.
The agency is undergoing 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.
To date, there’s no way for a retiree to get real-time updates about an application’s status, as OPM does not have a case management system. That has led to frustration for some retirees whose calls and emails have gone unanswered.
Twelve lawmakers sent OPM a letter in April urging the agency to provide progress updates on improvements to processing, saying they were aware of one constituent who has been waiting for 15 months. Some retirees have told Federal Times they have waited six to eight months.
Officials previously told Federal Times they are focusing their efforts on cases that have been sitting in limbo for the longest.
Slowdowns are also attributed to applications that have errors and require officials to track down missing documents or details from former employees who have since left public service.
In June, about 23% of retirement applications had errors, such as missing marriage certificates, signatures or incorrect dates of service, according to agency 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.