Government Struggling to Keep Up with Unexpected Retirements

April 6, 2012 ( - The Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) effort to fix its long-standing pension processing backlog is progressing even though many more federal employees than expected have been retiring in recent months.

OPM cut its claims backlog to 52,274 in March, a 14% drop since January, according to statistics the agency released this week, The Federal Times reports. OPM originally expected its backlog to be 55,378 in March.  

However, the agency also saw an unexpected spike in pension claims received—7,090 claims in March, more than the 5,000 expected. In January, OPM received 479 more claims than expected, and in February, it received 815 more claims than expected.   

According to The Federal Times, OPM processed 12,386 pension claims in March—a 40% increase in monthly processing since the agency began tracking numbers in January, and nearly 50% more than the 8,300 claims OPM expected it would process last month.  

OPM has struggled for decades to process pension claims quickly and accurately. As a result, tens of thousands of new federal retirees wait months to receive their complete annuities—some for more than a year—and in the meantime they have to get by on reduced interim pensions. Some of those interim pensions are less than half of what retirees are owed. However, OPM says interim pensions now average 80 percent of what retirees are eventually owed.  

OPM Director John Berry pledged to Congress that fixing pension processing would be his top priority this year. In January, OPM released a strategic plan calling for a 50% increase in retirement processing staff, streamlining processes, improved information technology and better cooperation and data exchange with other agencies (see “OPM Making a Dent in Federal Retiree Claims Backlog”).