OPM Retirement Backlog Creeps Higher to End November

OPM’s retirement backlog has climbed to levels in 2021 not seen in years. Are more federal employees retiring this year than in previous years?

The OPM retirement backlog climbed higher in November as the agency prepares to head into its busiest time of year to be dealing with retiring federal employees.

The total backlog went up to 26,361 from 26,106 at the end of October 2021, an increase of 1%.

While this is not a huge increase, the backlog is heading in the wrong direction considering that January and February are usually the busiest months for OPM in terms of receiving new retirement applications from federal employees. Last January for instance, OPM received nearly 14,000 new applications during the month, sending the backlog surging up 37% to almost 27,000 outstanding claims.

As to the reason behind the November 2021 increase, OPM received more claims than it did in October (8,266 versus 8,006) and also processed nearly 34% fewer claims than in October (8,010 versus 10,711).

On the positive side, however, the average monthly processing time in November dropped down to 79 days from 95 days in October.

What Makes the 2021 OPM Retirement Backlog Unique?

Is 2021 an anomaly? Why has the backlog grown so much this year over last year? It was as low as 17,432 in June 2020.

While the OPM retirement backlog currently sits at levels not seen since 2013, are more federal employees retiring in 2021 than in the past?

First, consider how this month compares to the last few years. The table below shows the number of claims processed and received in November for the last five years:

MonthClaims ReceivedClaims Processed
November 20218,2668,010
November 20205,8765,459
November 20197,8227,314
November 20187,5108,077
November 20175,5725,138

No question, more federal employees retired in November 2021 than they did in any of the last five years. This November is also well above the five year averages.

But how does the year-to-date compare for the same time period (January – November) in the last five years?

YearClaims ReceivedClaims Processed
Average monthly retirement claims received/processed January – November

As can be seen, 2021 is not the biggest year in terms of the average number of monthly retirement claims received from January – November for each of the last five years. It’s also not the best year in terms of the average number processed each month which probably partly explains why the backlog has grown more this year.

As to why the backlog has gotten so much higher in 2021, two factors jump out in particular:

  1. The average monthly processing time for retirement claims is 82 days so far in 2021. In 2020, it was 72 for the same time period, so it is almost 14% higher in 2021.
  2. Although the average number of claims received and processed has been higher in 2021 as noted above, in 2020, far fewer claims were received on average during any given month. The table above shows that this figure is nearly 12% higher in 2021 versus 2020.

It will be interesting to see what happens in December and how 2021 comes to a close in advance of what presumably will be a very busy couple of months to start 2022.

OPM Retirement Processing Status – November 2021

MonthClaims ReceivedClaims ProcessedInventory (Steady state goal is 13,000)Monthly Average Processing Time in DaysFYTD Average Processing Time in Days

Disability determinations are included in the pending number after approval. Average Processing Time in Days represents the number of days starting when OPM receives the retirement application through final adjudication.

*Initial retirement cases produced in less than 60 days, on average took 40 days to complete; whereas cases that were produced in more than 60 days, on average, took 104 days to complete.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.