For several months, we’ve been tracking a disturbing increase in federal retirements — one which both complicated the Office of Personnel Management’s efforts to fix the pension process and suggests many feds have had it with the proposed pay and benefit cuts. But OPM’s latest stats show a surprising drop in the number of feds retiring.
OPM said it received 6,616 retirement claims in April. That’s 17 percent less than the 8,000 it expected to receive last month, and 15 percent less than the 7,773 feds who retired in April 2011. Up until this point, retirement claims for the first three months of 2012 were up roughly 11 percent from the same period last year. But when April’s numbers are factored in, that increase drops almost in half, to nearly 6 percent.
It remains to be seen whether April is a blip, or the start of a trend in which retirements slow back down to a more manageable pace.
The rest of April’s stats contained some mixed news for OPM. The number of claims processed dropped from 12,386 in March to 8,028 in April. That was slightly less than the 8,300 OPM expected to process last month.
But there was good news: Despite the slight decline in productivity, the decreased retirement claims helped OPM cut its backlog from 52,274 to 51,016 cases. OPM is now way ahead of the 55,078-case backlog it expected to have in April.
I’ve asked OPM for their thoughts on what might have caused April’s changes and will update this blog when they respond.
UPDATE: OPM just sent me the following statement from Associate Director Ken Zawodny:
The first pillar of our strategic plan is the most simple and most urgent: adding more people to the claims adjudication process. The new hires from January 2012 have completed their initial training and now require coaching and mentoring as they begin to process cases. This is an expected part of the training program and requires the most experienced and effective LAS’s to be coaches and mentors in addition to processing retirement claims. Our front line employees split their time in April between processing cases, training the new hires and working with Navy Lean Six Sigma Team to improve the adjudication process, especially for more complex cases. Strategic investments of time and expertise will continue into May. To date, we have processed 39,116 retirement claims compared to the 32,900 that we estimated having done at this time.
As Director Berry stated in the Strategic Plan for Retirement Services, it is our goal to eliminate the current backlog in 18 months so that 90 percent of retirees will receive their full annuity payments within 60 days of retirement by July 2013.