The Office of Personnel Management’s efforts to process retirement claims and reduce a longstanding backlog slipped last month, after the agency was forced to cancel employee overtime because of automatic budget cuts.
OPM processed 10,954 claims in May, according to new data — 546 fewer than it had projected. That’s only the third time in the past 16 months — since the agency rolled out a new plan for clearing the backlog — that OPM failed to hit its processing goal.
The inventory of backlogged claims fell by just 3,870 — to 26,210 total claims. OPM had expected the backlog to be down to 19,578 by this time.
Overall, 7,084 employees put in for retirement in May, which is about 1,000 fewer employees than OPM expected. It’s the second month in a row federal-employee retirements dipped below expectations.
But OPM is still digging out of a mountain of new claims that stacked up earlier this year. Between January and April, OPM received about about 60,000 new retirement applications, approximately 43 percent more than a similar stretch of time last year and 51 percent more than OPM expected.
OPM’s strategic plan for shrinking the backlog, which it rolled out in January 2012, originally called for the agency to clear the backlog almost entirely by this July and to begin processing 90 percent of new applications within 60 days. The unexpected surge in claims and OPM’s reduced processing power now make that goal unlikely.
Federal News Radio has requested comment from OPM about its July goal.
In April, Ken Zawodny, OPM’s associate director of Retirement Services, announced the agency would suspend overtime hours for employees who work on processing retirement applications because of sequestration. The longer work hours had been a key element of OPM’s revamped strategy and had allowed the agency to process an extra 34,000 claims in 2012 that it otherwise would not have been able to clear.