The Office of Personnel Management received a small surge of retirement claims in July and August after applications had been falling steadily for months since January.

The time it took the government to process retirements increased sharply in July to 85 days before falling back down to 74 days in August, according to data kept by OPM.

Overall, the agency is sitting on an inventory of nearly 18,000 cases after it reduced its working caseload to new lows this year. About this time last year, there were 29,000 pending cases.

Still, despite efforts to dispatch focus teams to address backlogs, the agency is failing to hit its target time or inventory goals, leaving retirees to wonder whether their case will be one that ends up sitting in limbo for longer. Ideally, retirement applications are processed in 60 days or fewer.

And retirements are expected to swell again in just a few months, as many federal employees choose to put in their paperwork after the holidays. Last year, incoming claims increased to 12,404 in January from 5,490 in December.

OPM has assured concerned lawmakers and workers that its multiyear effort to modernize its retirement system will improve retirees’ ability to track their application in real time and expedite annuities to retirees.

The office also continues to remind employees that their applications can get hung up if there are errors in them, which requires the employing agency to backtrack information that can further delay processing.

In August, about one in five applications had an error, with the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department and Department of the Treasury having higher error rates in the 30% to 40% range.

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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