Federal retirement claims remained largely stable during May

While a record high national unemployment rate — 13.3% — shook the job market last month, at least some stability can be found in the number of federal employees voluntarily departing their posts.

According to the latest data from the Office of Personnel Management, 6,648 retirement claims were filed in May compared to 6,740 in April — a decline of about 1.4%. That also represented a 15.6% drop from May 2019. For four months now, 2020’s new retirement claims have been lower than the previous year.

The number of claims processed in May rose by 3%, from 8,115 in April to 8,360 last month. Meanwhile, the backlog of claims dropped from 19,889 in April to 18,177 in May, according to OPM’s data.

The most noticeable difference was in the time it took OPM to process claims, with the monthly average increasing from 68 days in April to 83 days  in May. In its report, OPM said, “Initial retirement cases produced in less than 60 days, on average took 42 days to complete; whereas cases that were produced in more than 60 days, on average, took 125 days to complete.”

Processing times have been rising for several months, and the fiscal year-to-date average processing time took 64 days in May compared to 61 days in April.

OPM is dealing with a still-largely teleworking federal workforce due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has complicated other agency areas such as hiring and training. But a year ago the Government Accountability Office issued a report saying OPM hadn’t met its  goal of processing 90% of retirement claims within 60 days for three fiscal years.

The report listed the primary causes for delays as “the continuing reliance on paper-based applications and manual processing; insufficient staffing capacity, particularly during peak workload season; and incomplete applications.”