The number of federal employees filing retirement claims in April dipped below expectations following months of unexpectedly high numbers, according to new data from the Office of Personnel Management.
OPM received 7,059 claims last month, about 1,000 fewer than expected.
Before the drop last month, federal retirements had been rolling in well above expectations. OPM has received 59,803 claims since January — up more than 40 percent compared to the first four months of 2012.
The wave of retirements caused a longstanding backlog of retirement claims to swell earlier this year — from more than 26,000 at the end of December to some 41,000 by the end of February.
But even as the claims have poured in, OPM has outperformed its processing targets by wide margins the past three months.
OPM processed more than 13,500 claims last month, besting its goal of 11,500. That helped cut the backlog by more than 6,500 — to 30,080 claims.
Since rolling out a new strategic plan in January 2012 to deal with the backlog, OPM has met or exceeded its processing goal nearly every month.
However, OPM had expected to have the backlog down to about 23,000 claims by this time.
Sequestration could throw another wrench in the process. OPM’s associate director for retirement services, Ken Zawodny said the across-the-board budget cuts would force the agency to curtail overtime hours and that retirees should expect an increase in the amount of time it takes the agency to process claims.
According to its original plans, OPM had hoped to cut the backlog entirely by this July and begin to process 90 percent of claims within 60 days.
A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee plans to evaluate OPM’s progress on reducing the backlog at a hearing next week.