(Story updated March 6 at 5:25 p.m. to include comment from OPM)
More than 12,000 federal employees filed for retirement last month, according to new data from the Office of Personnel Management.
That was about 2,200 more retirement applications than the agency expected to receive under new monthly projections it began using this month. The new projections are based on the average number of claims OPM’s Retirement Services division has received in a given month in each of the last four years.
However, in contrast to the deluge of federal retirements in the first few months of 2013, the number of federal employees retiring so far this year represents a more minor swell.
Overall, the total number of federal retirements in the first two months of the year stands at about 29,400 — 31 percent fewer than OPM received in the first two months of 2013.
The agency processed more than 9,700 claims last month. That was the highest number of cases the agency processed since last October and slightly better than its revised goal of processing 9,400 cases. Under initial projections, though, OPM had hoped to close out 11,500 cases last month.
Despite overall slower pace of retirements so far this year, OPM’s progress in clearing a longstanding inventory of claims appears to have stalled. In fact, the backlog grew in February by more than 2,200 claims.
Backlog grows slightly
With the normal first-of-the-year swell in retirements, the backlog grew to more than 21,200 claims at end of January. Under initial projections, OPM had hoped reduce the claims inventory to about 18,3400 cases by the end of February. Instead, the backlog actually grew month-to-month and now stands at more than 23,500 claims.
However, under the revised projections — it’s the second time in the last seven months that the agency has retooled its calculations — OPM expects incoming retirement claims to drop to between 6,400-6,800 claims over the next several months. Meanwhile, OPM expects its processing output to ramp up.
By the end of May, under the revised goals, OPM expects to shrink the backlog down to abut 14,642 — which puts the agency about a month behind its initial projections.
But OPM says it still has plenty of time to catch up.
“The inventory of new retirement claims is traditionally higher in the first quarter of the year due to an increase in the number of employees retiring at year end and various changes in the law that take effect at that time such as this year’s pay increase and the ability of FERS employees to fully credit their sick leave toward retirement,” an OPM spokesperson said in an email to Federal News Radio. “We anticipate that the inventory will drop significantly in the second quarter.”
OPM says its retooled projections are part of the continuing improvements to claims processing made by the Retirement Services division. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta has also made technological improvements, including a new case-management system, a top priority for the agency.