The number of federal employees who filed for retirement last month dropped to the lowest level since the end of last year.
About 5,800 federal employees filed retirement applications in September, according to new data provided from the Office of Personnel Management. That’s some 2,600 fewer than OPM expected to receive and more than 6,000 fewer than submitted applications in September 2012.
That unexpected drop allowed OPM to process more applications than it anticipated and to make significant progress clearing a longstanding backlog of cases.
The agency projected it would process 9,500 claims but ended up processing more than 10,800. OPM also reduced the long-term inventory by more than 5,100 claims, which is the agency’s strongest showing in closing out backlogged applications since April.
The backlog now stands at 17,719 claims — a number OPM hadn’t expected to reach until the end of October.
For three months, beginning in May, the agency was forced to cancel overtime for employees in its Retirement Services division — a key weapon in clearing the backlog — because of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. That essentially left the agency treading water when it came to shrinking its inventory of claims.
However, a “year-end budget review” in August freed up enough cash to restore limited overtime through September. It’s unclear exactly how the government shutdown and a lapse in congressional appropriations will affect OPM’s retirement-processing efforts, although the Retirement Services division is exempt from furloughs because it’s funded by a special retirement trust fund, not through annual appropriations.
Over the past few months, federal retirements have been on a decline. OPM was hit by a surge of retirement applications at the beginning of 2013, receiving 52,744 in the first three months of the year — about 67 percent more than expected. But in five of the last six months, OPM has received fewer retirement applications than expected.