(Story updated Jan. 7 at 5:35 p.m. to include comments from OPM)
Fewer federal employees filed for retirement in December than in any other month in 2012, according to new data from the Office of Personnel Management.
The number of claims filed — 5,152 — fell well below OPM’s projections of 7,000 claims.
Retirement claims exceeded OPM’s projections in seven of the last 12 months, and a total of 106,550 federal employees filed for retirement in 2012.
But the number of retirement claims appeared to stall at the end of the year; claims were also down in November.
Oddly, even with the fewer than expected number of claims last month, the agency failed to meet its goal of processing 11,500 claims, instead clocking in just 10,454.
December marked only the second time in 2012 the agency failed to hit its processing target. OPM attributed it in part to the holiday season.
“Closing retirement claims is a labor-intensive process,” Ken Zawodny, associate director of retirement services for OPM, said in an email provided to Federal News Radio. “In December, OPM’s production may have been impacted because of the holiday and the need to use leave that would otherwise have to be forfeited.”
OPM has steadily worked at cutting back on the claims backlog that a year ago had ballooned to more than 61,000 claims. Over the last 12 months, OPM has reduced the claims inventory by 57 percent.
“We are currently ahead of projections and have the lowest inventory of claims on hand since October 2009,” Zawodny said.
Because the first of the year is typically a popular time to retire, OPM predicts retirements applications filed this month to reach 21,000. That will push the overall backlog of claims — now at 26,402 claims, which is below OPM projections — back up to nearly 39,000.
OPM expects to continue processing 11,500 claims next month and for the foreseeable future. If all goes according to plan, OPM expects by July 2013 to be able to begin processing 90 percent of all new claims within 90 days.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.