The Office of Personnel Management continues to struggle with its extensive retirement backlog, with more than 20,000 applications waiting to be processed for employees across the United States.
According to FedSmith, the OPM received 14,590 new retirement applications in January, but it was only able to process 8,638. This deficit of 5,952 was added to the list of retirement applications submitted in past months and brought the total number of forms in the retirement backlog to 20,467, a 41% increase since December.
Why Did the Retirement Backlog Grow So Dramatically?
There are a few seasonal factors that affect the retirement backlog and contribute to sudden rises in application submissions.
Two seasonal factors relate to winter holidays. We covered deficits in past months and found that it’s normal for the backlog to grow in November and December. The OPM is closed for national holidays at the end of these months (for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s), and employees are more likely to use some of their vacation time during these months. This creates a labor shortage where the OPM isn’t able to process as many applications because it doesn’t have as many people on staff.
The third seasonal factor is January retirements. Many experts claim that January is the best time to retire. It makes it easy for retirees to budget annually and allows them to use their benefits (like vacation days) during the holiday season and then leave in the new year.
While January isn’t always the best time to retire (everyone’s situation is different), there is always a surge of employees who are ready to leave at the start of the new year.
Finally, the OPM approved voluntary early retirement offers for USPS employees at the start of this year. Eligible employees can retire early and receive their benefits earlier, meaning people who weren’t likely to apply for retirement this month might be considering it.
There are a variety of other factors, including budget cuts and employment insecurity around this administration that contribute to the monthly amount of applications. However, the factors addressed above are the main, tangible reasons why the OPM would experience such a significant increase in applications last month.
This Year’s Retirement Backlog Actually Isn’t That Bad
While these factors might seem overwhelming, there isn’t anything particularly different from previous years other than the USPS early retirement offer.
Christmas and Thanksgiving come every year, and employees decide to retire every January. As a result, the OPM is prepared for a backlog and manages its performance based on previous logs in past years. For example, the retirement backlogs from the past three years in January were:
- 23,087 in 2017
- 19,761 in 2016
- 24,014 in 2015
From this perspective, a backlog of only 20,000 doesn’t seem as bad. Instead of looking at the sheer number of applications in the backlog, readers should consider the percent of applications processed versus the number submitted. In November, the OPM only processed 5,138 applications, but was able to process almost 6,000 in January.
What Does the Backlog Mean to Retiring Employees?
News of this backlog might come as a surprise to employees who are ready to retire, especially to USPS employees looking to accept their VERA. However, understanding the effects of this backlog can help employees understand the best time to apply for retirement and plan their finances accordingly.
The biggest impact this backlog has for people is on employee waiting periods. Retiring employees will wait an average of 50 days for their application to clear. However, this number can exceed 100 days during busy months and large backlogs. It would be in the best interest of employees who are eager for their application to clear quickly to wait for a smaller backlog, or choose to submit their applications during slower months. However, that doesn’t always guarantee a faster processing time.
Potential retirees might also have a harder time navigating the OPM interface and submitting their applications, as the processing backlog slows applications in order to prevent the system from getting overwhelmed. Submitting your retirement application may take longer than you planned.
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Start Planning Your Retirement Schedule Now with MyFEDBenefits
If you’re worried about the OPM retirement backlog and wonder how the delay in applications will affect you, contact MyFEDbenefits today. We specialize in working through application issues and finding benefits that can make your retirement smoother.
Start by finding a specialist in your state who can tailor your communication to your unique needs. You can also fill out a benefits workbook to figure out where you are in the retirement process. From there, you can take the right steps to apply for retirement and handle any issues that come up — regardless of any OPM problems.