For the fourth month in a row, fewer federal employees than expected put in for retirement in October, allowing the Office of Personnel Management to continue cutting a longstanding backlog of claims.
In October, approximately 7,500 employees — about 1,000 fewer than expected — filed for retirement, according to new OPM data.
Despite processing more cases in October than in any month since April — 11,027 claims — OPM still fell short of its processing goal, which ramped up last month. Under a revised strategic plan rolled out this summer, OPM expected to clear 11,500 cases each month beginning in October and spanning the next four months.
Still, OPM was able to shrink the overall inventory of backlogged claims by more than 3,500. The backlog now stands at 14,176 cases — nearly 5,000 fewer claims than OPM projected at this time.
All told, the backlog has shrunk by 65 percent this year since it peaked at 41,000 cases in February.
The number of federal retirements has been on the decline over the last six months. In six of the last seven months, OPM has received fewer applications than expected. Overall, though, the number of federal retirements is up about 10 percent year-to-date because of an upsurge of retirement applications in the first three months of the year.
The 16-day government shutdown left OPM’s Retirement Services division unscathed. The office is funded by a special retirement trust fund, and employees were exempted from furloughs.
However, the current budget uncertainty roiling the government could pose issues.
For three months earlier this year, OPM canceled overtime for employees in the Retirement Services division due to the automatic sequestration budget cuts. Strategic use of overtime had been a key driver in OPM’s efforts to reduce the backlog, and without it OPM was left treading water in terms of further reducing the inventory.
A “year-end budget review” in August ended up freeing up enough cash to restore limited overtime through October, according to OPM.
But federal agencies are currently operating under a stopgap funding measure and there are deep divisions in Congress about whether and how to replace the automatic cuts with an alternative deficit-cutting plan.