The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has struggled to fill the retirement backlog most of the year, but it continues to rise as the office is overwhelmed with new submissions.
The retirement claims backlog has the potential to delay the retirement of federal employees, preventing organizations from balancing their budgets and reaching their staffing goals. On a personal level, this backlog can impact employees financially and personally when they want to leave their positions in the federal government.
How Bad Is the Backlog?
During the month of November, the backlog grew 2.3%, bringing the total application inventory up to 19,294 compared to 18,860 at the end of October. The OPM was unable to prevent a backlog increase despite a 37% decrease in applications submitted in November as opposed to October. For context, 5,572 new applications were submitted in November, compared to 8,850 in October.
While the number of submissions decreased significantly, the number of processed applications also decreased. The OPM only processed 5,138 applications, a 25% decrease from October.
In a way, this decrease makes sense when you consider the Thanksgiving Holiday. Many employees take that entire week off, essentially eliminating 25% of the work month. However, this continual backlog increase remains a source of frustration for the OPM and federal employees who are trying to retire.
According to FedSmith, the OPM retirement backlog is 20% higher than it was a year ago, and the month of November was one of the highest increases all year. They explain that it’s possible to process a claim in less than 60 days, but not uncommon for the OPM to take more than 90 days to work through their pile. Roughly 58% of total claims were processed before the 60-day window in 2017.
What Is the Retirement Backlog?
We discussed the OPM retirement backlog earlier this year when claims spiked again over the summer. When the Office of Personnel Management receives more applications to access retirement benefits than it is able to process, a backlog is created, and retiring employees have to wait for their paperwork to be approved.
During this time, they’re left waiting to receive their benefits and can potentially face financial hardship if it takes more than 90 days to process their claims.
New employees could also struggle to apply for retirement benefits and experience slow loading times and crashed pages on the OPM website.
Experts Predict a Spike in New Claims in Early 2018
January and February are some of the highest months for applications because they’re the most popular months to retire. This means the OPM will experience a surge in applications over the next few months. Plus, even if there is a decrease in applications during the month of December, winter holidays are likely to decrease the number of applications processed.
For potential retirees, the average wait time is expected to increase for the process of applications. More applications will surpass the 60-day mark without approval, leaving retirees waiting to receive their benefits.
In some cases, employees who submit their retirement applications in January may have to wait until April for approval.
What Is the OPM Doing to Fight the Backlog?
The office of personnel management reports that it has hired 40 legal administrative specialists to assist with the backlog. While this information is promising, it’s unclear where the OPM is in the hiring and onboarding process.
This information was reported before October and remains constant on the OPM website. Furthermore, changes to federal budgeting and staffing goals might affect how long these employees are contracted with the OPM.
Furthermore, the employee retirement backlog has been a problem for several years. Since 2012, the goal of the OPM has been to process 90% of applications in less than 60 days. Increasing staffing and customer support in the past has yet to achieve that goal. While the OPM might have good intentions with these new hires, many employees are unsure whether they will cause any real change.
What Can Retirees Do to Ensure a Smooth Retirement?
For some employees, the benefits application process will be a minor inconvenience as they wait for their claims to be approved. However, this backlog can seriously impact some employees that have prepared for years to retire from their positions in the government.
Federal employees who are planning to retire in 2018 and are worried about the OPM backlog have a few options:
- Continue working (if possible) until the backlog is addressed and the majority of applications are processed in fewer than 60 days.
- Make sure you have enough saved to live comfortably without benefits for up to 100 days until your application is processed.
- Apply for retirement early before the backlog grows even more.
There’s no guarantee that the backlog will decrease in 2018, and Federal employees could find themselves waiting several months until they feel comfortable applying for retirement benefits.
Instead, you can work with a Federal Benefits Specialist in your state to discuss your options and review your financial situation. They might find a way to help you retire and make it through those first three months without benefits. Contact us today if you are retiring from a federal position and want to make sure you receive benefits as soon as possible.