OPM’s Retirement Applications Backlog Inches Higher in February

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By on March 6, 2017 in Retirement with 0 Comments

Line chart showing the retirement claims received, processed and total running inventory as of February 2017

The outstanding backlog of retirement applications at the Office of Personnel Management edged higher in February.

The total backlog now stands at 23,916, 3.6% higher than where it closed in January. OPM saw a surge of new applications arrive in January that is typical to kick off a new year since that is a popular time for federal employees to begin retirement.

February had a higher number of new applications than usual as well (9,114), however, OPM was able to process 8,285 which helped keep the backlog from climbing too much. In January, despite the much higher number of new applications, OPM only processed 7,327.

For comparison, the backlog stood at 22,692 in February 2016, so the January/February surge this year, while it contained fewer total new applications, has led to a backlog that is 5.4% larger than last year’s.

OPM has been criticized for how it handles its retirement claims. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) called the agency’s methodology for dealing with the applications “antiquated” and “archaic” in a recent report on government waste, saying that it should be using software to quickly process the applications rather than the manual process the agency currently uses.

FedSmith.com author Robert Benson echoed this sentiment in his article How to Fix OPM’s Backlog Problem. Benson noted that calculating the FERS annuity supplement is the primary contributing factor to delays in performing the calculations and said, “Being number and arithmetic intensive, the calculation of the [FERS] annuity supplement is ideal for an automated approach. Specifically, what is needed is a dedicated computer program, custom designed for the demanding calculations.”

OPM did try developing software for processing retirement applications several years ago, but after two years and tens of milions of dollars spent, the agency decided to pull the plug on the project and go back to processing the applications by hand. (See Back to the Future: OPM and the Federal Employee Retirement Tsunami)

Former OPM director Beth Cobert said that the delays in processing the retirement applications are caused by a lack of funding. She said in a blog post last year that Congress needed to give the agency more money in its budget to deal with the retirement backlog.

While the backlog has risen recently, OPM has made a general improvement in the last five years. It got as high as 48,378 at the end of December 2011.

As noted in its monthly reports and in its strategic plan for handling the retirement applications, the “steady state” is 13,000 which OPM considers to be a “manageable state.” The strategic plan said, “By having no more than 13,000 claims on hand, the staff will be able to adjudicate 90 percent of all the claims covered by this plan within 60 days.”

OPM still has some work to do to achieve the “steady state” since it hasn’t been at or below 13,000 since 2015, however, new applications tend to taper off somewhat after the first of the year which allows room for potentially greater reductions to the backlog.

The latest backlog figures as of February 2017 are included below.

Month Claims Received Claims Processed Inventory (Steady state is 13,000) Avg. # of Days to Process Case in 60 days or less Avg. # of Days to Process Case in more than 60 days
Oct-15 8,374 10,438 12,642 38 86
Nov-15 6,019 6,099 12,562 37 98
Dec-15 4,753 5,916 11,399 40 104
Jan-16 15,423 7,061 19,761 38 94
Feb-16 11,293 8,362 22,692 36 96
Mar-16 5,741 9,222 19,211 44 118
Apr-16 7,241 11,935 14,517 50 92
May-16 7,210 7,692 14,035 37 103
Jun-16 5,929 6,435 13,529 37 115
Jul-16 9,238 7,205 15,562 38 110
Aug-16 6,818 6,046 16,334 42 112
Sep-16 6,946 8,134 15,146 45 100
Oct-16 7,326 5,795 16,677 49 91
Nov-16 5,065 5,723 16,019 48 94
Dec-16 5,483 6,405 15,097 52 95
Jan-17 15,317 7,327 23,087 53 89
Feb-17 9,114 8,285 23,916 38 104

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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