Some officials at the Office of Personnel Management attributed a slowdown in the processing times of retirement claims to the hiring freeze that occurred earlier this year.
July saw an increase in the number of retirement claims—10,070 up from 6,141 in June. This brought the backlog of claims up to 17,091, an increase of 18 percent over June. Before last month’s influx, OPM was making progress on its inventory, with the backlog steadily decreasing since February. (13,000 is considered a steady state)
However, the percentage of claims processed within 60 days since the beginning of FY2017 (October 2016-September 2017) lagged behind the rate of previous years. Last month, only 55 percent of claims in that time had been processed within 60 days, compared to 79 percent a year ago.
A spokeswoman at OPM said that one factor in the slowdown was the hiring freeze earlier this year. “The hiring freeze did impact the percentage of claims processed within 60 days. Retirement Services has mitigated the impact of staff shortages in the retirement claims process by implementing process improvements and working with agencies to improve the quality and timeliness of their submissions,” OPM said.
They also said there are procedures in place to ensure retiring federal employees don’t feel the brunt of government issues. One of these procedures is retirees are placed in an “interim pay status” within 5-7 days of OPM receiving their claim. From then until the claim is fully processed, the retiree receives an estimate of what their post-employment annuity will be based on final salary and length of service. Generally, the estimate equals about 80 percent of their final retirement pay.
Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) called this lag “unacceptable” and linked it to lack of agency leadership. He said, “It’s troubling that the percentage of retirement claims processed within 60 days is trending in the wrong direction compared to last year. Continued backlogs are unacceptable. This issue needs the attention of OPM leadership and highlights the importance of having a Senate confirmed director and deputy director in place to help address the problem.”
OPM also has said, “RS has the authority and flexibility to address workload spikes, including the ability to move qualified employees to areas of greatest need. However, our ability to maintain desired processing time will depend upon the extent of the increase in the number of cases received.”
They also noted that some cases just take longer than others because they involve “more complicated situations that may require additional information from agency or employee”.