OPM retirement backlog smallest in more than a year

The retirement claims backlog dipped to its lowest level in more than a year, according to new figures released Tuesday by the Office of Personnel Management.

After processing 6,447 claims in December, OPM ended 2014 with 11,669 unprocessed claims in its inventory. That’s approximately 1,000 fewer claims than the 12,637 it had in its inventory at the end of December 2013.

OPM received 4,077 new claims in December, which was about 1,600 less than the 5,600 claims it expected to receive for the month. The 6,447 claims it processed was close to the 6,500 it predicted it would process in that time.

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Way back in 2011, OPM was facing a seemingly insurmountable backlog of more than 60,000 unprocessed retirement claims in its inventory.

As a first step to addressing this backlog, OPM automated the records of employees who were expected to retire over the next 10 years as well as all the data coming from the four governmentwide payroll providers — the departments of Interior and Agriculture, the General Services Administration and the Defense Finance Accounting Service.

In January 2012, with the backlog standing at around 48,000 claims, OPM introduced a new plan to further speed up its claims processing. That plan was made up of “four pillars”:

  • Hire 56 new legal administrative specialists and 20 customer service specialists.
  • Expand work hours and use of overtime.
  • Establish higher production standards and consider production bonuses.
  • Partner with other agencies to provide more feedback and involve chief human capital officers.
  • Upgrade technology.

At that time, OPM predicted these changes would increase the number of claims processed by as much as 2,000 per month before July 2012. That number was expected to rise to 5,000 per month once staff was fully trained.

The 2012 plan predicted that the backlog would be cleared within 18 months and retirement services would adjudicate 90 percent of all claims within 60 days.

Early in 2013, the agency announced that because of the across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, it would have to cut back on the use of overtime by employees who work processing retirement claims. That led to a dip in the number of cases the agency was able clear over the summer months and caused OPM to revise its goal for reducing the backlog to March 2014.

In August 2013, OPM was able to restore limited overtime thanks to a fiscal-year-end review.

“Our goal is to process at least as many cases as we receive each month and to use extra processing capacity for surges,” said Ken Zawodny, associate director of Retirement Services at OPM, in a December 2013 statement provided to Federal News Radio.

Since October 2013, OPM staff has processed more than 5,000 claims a month and in some months, doubled that number.

January and February are typically the months that see the highest number of new claims filed. In 2014, OPM received 17,383 and 12,025 new claims in January and February, respectively.

Last October saw a surge of retirement claims, with OPM expecting to receive 8,500, but actually getting 12,442 for the month.

For January, OPM says that it expects to receive 19,000 new claims, with another 9,700 coming in February. If OPM processes the 8,700 claims it expects to in January, its predicted end-of-the-month inventory will be 21,642.

Since last May, OPM has included the percentage of claims it’s processing in 60 days or less. That number has steadily inched up from 76.6 percent in May to 83.4 percent at the end of December.


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