OPM shifts focus in monthly retirement reports

The Office of Personnel Management’s monthly retirement report will look a little different this month.

Ken Zawodny, associate director of retirement services at OPM, said the agency tweaked the focus of its monthly updates to more accurately reflect the kind of information federal employees and retirees will need to make decisions about their retirement.

“The information that makes a difference to them for decision purposes is how long does it take to process my retirement? How long until I get my final retirement check?,” he said during a call with reporters. “Those are really the numbers that folks are interested in.”

The agency will no longer report the projected number of claims it expects to receive and process or the predicted size of its backlog.

New retirement reports now include the average number of days it takes to process retirement cases in 60 days or less, in addition to the average number of days for processing cases in more than 60 days. Reports also include monthly and year-to-date percentages

This comes as OPM has made a sizable dent in its inventory of unprocessed retirement claims. The backlog stands at 12,642 claims in October, compared with 14,706 in September.  October’s inventory is the lowest it’s been since December 2014.

It also received 2,000 more claims in October — 8,374 cases — and processed 10,438.

The agency’s new report shows OPM is making some progress in processing retirement applications more quickly.

This year to date the agency processed 74 percent of its claims in 60 days or less, and this month, OPM also processed 74 percent of its claims in 60 days or less.

Processing times have done better slightly over 2015, but pale in comparison to OPM’s rates from one year ago, when it processed 83 percent of its cases in 60 days or less in October 2014.

“A lot of the cases that we were able to get rid of back then in last October were still some of the holdover cases from the inventory we had previously,” Zawodny said. “But the inventory this year is 2,000 less than we had last year at the same time.”

On average, OPM says it takes 38 days to process those claims, slightly better than the average of 43 days the agency reported in September. For cases that take longer than 60 days, it estimates an average processing time of about 86 days — again, better than September’s average of 94 days.

The number of retirement claims in OPM's backlog is the lowest it's been since December 2014. (OPM)
The number of retirement claims in OPM’s backlog is the lowest it’s been since December 2014. (OPM)

OPM is less concerned about the size of its retirement claims inventory and more focused on the whittling down the time it takes to process and close individual cases, Zawodny said.

The agency’s ultimate goal is to close 90 percent of its retirement cases in 60 days or less, he said.

“Of course, we’re a little bit a ways from that, but to drive down the amount of time it takes to get the cases out is really the goal,” he said. “If it was zero, we’d have a lot of people sitting around doing nothing. It can never be zero because of the complexity of some of the cases and the back and forth we have with individuals.”

The reporting changes also reflect the lessons learned from years of tracking its process on retirement claims. Zawodny said OPM has looked at six months of metrics and checked with retirees to make sure that what it’s reporting corresponds with what its customers are experiencing.

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