OPM Retirement Backlog Sets Another Record in March

The number of pending claims in the OPM retirement backlog has managed to grow even more as of the end of March 2022.

The OPM retirement backlog just keeps growing. It has managed to climb even higher as of the end of March 2022.

The latest data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) show that the retirement backlog has set another new high not seen since March 2013 when it was 36,603.

The current OPM retirement backlog now stands at 36,349. It has increased 16% in 2022 alone and has increased 48% since its low point in 2021 when it was 24,619 at the end of May. Recently retired federal employees who are waiting for their claims to be processed probably did not think they would long for the days when the OPM retirement backlog was “only” just over 24,000 claims.

Last month saw a higher than usual number of new retirement claims come into OPM’s retirement services office. OPM received 10,042 new claims and processed 9,117 which is why the backlog increased. It went up almost 3% over the end of February.

How many more claims arrived this March than in recent years? The table below shows a breakdown. I’ve also listed the number of claims that OPM processed those months and where the total backlog stood at that time for comparison.

Claims ReceivedClaims ProcessedInventory
March 202210,0429,11736,349
March 20219,6648,75627,368
March 20206,5668,93121,264
March 201910,04813,21720,201
March 20187,76713,26218,730
March 20177,21610,60220,530

As can be seen, the number of federal employees who retired in March 2022 is one of the two highest years in the last 5 years, falling just barely short of the number who retired in March 2019. However, in 2019, OPM processed 45% more retirement claims than it did this year which helped keep the backlog more in check.

Although it has fluctuated in the last five years, OPM’s retirement backlog has grown 77% since March 2017.

How Long Does it Take OPM to Process a Federal Employee’s Retirement Claim?

OPM says on its website that it aims to process federal employees’ retirement applications within 60 days. With a backlog this big though, it stands to reason that some new federal retirees will be waiting longer, and indeed, comments from FedSmith readers indicate this is what has happened to them.

This is an answer to one of the frequently asked questions from OPM’s website:

Retirement Services strives to complete retirement claims within sixty days. If we need additional information from you or your former employing agency, however, your claim could take longer to process. It may take more time than average if, for example, your retirement claim has special circumstances (e.g. applying a specific retirement law, evaluating a court order, etc.) It may also take more time if we need to contact you to make a benefit election (e.g. a service credit deposit), or your former employing agency for additional information, or another agency such as the Social Security Administration, if a benefit from them impacts your claim. 

What Can Federal Employees Do to Speed Up the Retirement Application Process?

So it may be slow, but is there anything federal employees who are retiring soon can do to make the retirement application process go faster?

According to OPM, submitting your retirement application package earlier and making sure everything is completed is the best way to avoid delays. This is another FAQ from OPM’s website:

You can help reduce delays in processing by submitting your application in advance and by making sure your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) is complete. If you submit your paperwork early, your personnel and payroll offices will be able to complete their action before your retirement date.

Common OPM Retirement Application Errors and How to Avoid Them

Any errors on your OPM retirement application package will just slow the process down even further, so it is important to avoid any mistakes.

OPM has listed some of the most common errors that it finds on federal employees’ retirement application forms for both the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Among them are inaccurate service dates, missing signatures, or lack of proof for the FEHB five year requirement heading into retirement.

These articles provide more information on common mistakes that show up on OPM retirement application forms and how federal employees planning to retire soon can avoid making them:

OPM Retirement Processing Status – March 2022

MonthClaims ReceivedClaims ProcessedInventory (Steady state goal is 13,000)Monthly Average Processing Time in DaysFYTD Average Processing Time in Days
Oct-208,3236,99219,6057777
Nov-205,8765,45920,0227476
Dec-205,1355,47019,6877475
Jan-2113,8506,56926,9688578
Feb-217,4958,00326,4607778
Mar-219,6648,75627,3686976
Apr-219,41411,39625,3867175
May-217,6848,45124,6197074
Jun-217,2646,88424,9997875
Jul-218,9226,92027,0019176
Aug-218,9767,41228,5659378
Sep-217,5897,34428,8109479
Oct-218,00610,71126,1059595
Nov-218,2668,01026,3617988
Dec-217,5697,20026,7309289
Jan-2213,2668,68931,3079490
Feb-2212,2418,12435,4248990
*Mar-2210,0429,11736,3498289

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 44 days to complete; whereas cases that were produced in more than 60 days, on average, took 128 days to complete.

About the Author

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