The Office of Personnel Management has lost momentum this year in processing federal-employee retirement claims after drastically reducing its inventory in 2013, according to a progress report from the agency.

OPM processed about 18,500 applications during the first two months of 2014, compared to 27,900 during the same period last year, meaning processing has slowed by 34-percent this year during the traditional peak months for new cases.

The agency ended February with 23,600 unprocessed claims, representing an increase of 86 percent compared to December 2013. The number of unprocessed claims rose by only 56 percent during the same period last year, although OPM finished February 2013 with a much larger backlog of 41,100 cases.

Overall, the inventory is considerably smaller than it was at this time last year, but the number of unprocessed claims is now growing at a faster rate.

OPM has taken steps to improve its handling of the applications, hiring a contractor to support call-center operations, training new employees to do customer service and working with other agencies to reduce any application errors that might slow down processing.

The agency has also reinstated overtime and normal call-center hours after cutting back in those areas for part of last year because of the government-wide budget cuts known as sequestration.

MORE: OPM to miss goal for clearing retirement-claims backlog after cutting overtime and call-center hours

OPM spokeswoman Lindsey O’Keefe said Friday that the wave of new retirees at the start of 2015, along with various changes in the law, contributed to the growth in unprocessed claims. “We anticipate that the inventory will drop significantly in the second quarter,” she said.

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