Social Security Administration

February 9, 2009

The Social Security Administration (SSA) had a long and proud tradition of working constructively with its unionized workforce to make the Social Security system efficient, fair and “customer-friendly.”  That is why Social Security remains so popular and successful.  However, the years of doing more with less have taken a severe toll on the employee morale at SSA.  In a recent AFGE survey of SSA workers, 45% reported that they are dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with their work experience at SSA.  Survey responses would indicate that employee’s greatest frustrations are staff shortages and a lack of time to process pending cases due to the pressure of constant interviewing. 

Overwhelmingly, employees report that they do not have enough time to devote to a quality work product, which includes accuracy, complete and proper explanations of rights and responsibilities to clients, investigation of any and all inaccuracies, among others. Backlogs are growing at tremendous rates.

The Social Security Administration needs a Commissioner and leadership who have vision, who are committed to providing the best service possible to the American public, who are aggressive in finding the resources the Agency needs to accomplish its mission and who can deal fairly with its workforce.  The current leadership does not exhibit these basic characteristics.  Under the current Commissioner, the agency has authorized excessive contracting out, closed numerous public offices, implemented policy and regulatory changes that have deprived retirees of earned benefits, and prohibited the sharing of information with applicants that has resulted in substantial financial losses to beneficiaries.

 

AFGE recommends:

                        Initial Claims

  • Pilot the new Internet Social Security Benefit Application for at least a year before agency wide implementation.  Provide Congress and the Administration with the pilot results that will include an evaluation of claims accuracy prior to SSA employee review, before deciding whether to implement the changes across the board.
  • Maintain employee review of all Internet applications until it can be shown that the accuracy level of Internet claims matches or exceeds the accuracy level of telephone and in person claims.
  • Restore complete development of claims (e.g., proof of age, citizenship, lag wages, etc)
  • Continue to permit SSA customers to select the methodology for interacting with SSA that they prefer (e.g., face to face, telephone, Internet etc). 

Disability and Hearing Backlogs

  • AFGE recommends the federalization of the State Disability Determination Service to bring consistency to the initial claims decisions in the same way that the Supplemental Security Income program (that was federalized from the states in 1974) created a uniform system of benefits for low income blind, disabled and aged population. 

 

  •  Restructure “One Stop Shopping” in Field Offices
    • Establishment of Disability and Hearing Adjudicator positions (GS-12) to adjudicate targeted initiated claims and likely reconsideration and hearing reversal cases.
  • Properly staff Administrative Law Judges and their support staff
  • Restructure the Office of Disability Adjudicative Reviews
    • Rescind newly created positions in ODAR over the past three years that do not involve hands on adjudication of cases and convert the work-years to FTEs for hearing offices.
    • Restore regular scheduled meetings with employee representatives to discuss and resolve issues.
    • Consider reestablishment of the Adjudicative Officer position. 

SSA’s Budget

  • Place SSA administrative expenses “off budget”
  • Congress should retain appropriations and oversight authority albeit unencumbered by artificial budget caps and scoring restrictions.
  • Require the SSA Commissioner to submit the SSA appropriation request directly to Congress.

 

Third Parties Usage

  • Limit SSA contracting out due to the inherently governmental work of much of the agency’s business.
  • Restrict disclosure of claimant information, protected by the Privacy Act, from third parties. 
  • Conduct studies, monitor, evaluate and disclose accuracy of Third Party involvement to the public     
  • Prohibit Third Parties from charging fees for non-appellant t assistance to SSA and SSI customers. 

 

Social Security Card Centers

  • Require SSA Field offices to become full service, “One stop shopping”  facilities
  • Establish a policy of mandatory cost analysis prior to new card center openings. 
  • Establish an analysis of the burdens imposed on seniors and the disabled regarding the Agency policy of doing business at multiple SSA locations (e.g., field offices, card centers, etc).

  
Closing of SSA Field Offices:

  • Issue a moratorium on closing SSA offices.
  • Support of the Social Security Customer Service Improvement Act, H.R.5110

 

SSA’s 800 Number Service

  • Increase staffing levels to avoid lengthy hold times for the public, in reaching a telephone agent.
  • Provide for sufficient staff to field offices to answer telephones 95% of the time. 
  • Eliminate sweatshop working conditions for telephone agents (e.g., tethered to phones for lengthy periods of time, limiting bathroom breaks, etc). 
  • Eliminate artificial call limits to serve the public.
  • Eliminate secret monitoring of 800 number calls. 
  • Reinstitute normal leave use procedures for 800 number agents. 
  • Eliminate use of Program Service Center employees to answer 800 number calls and return them to their regular duties.
  • Create career development opportunities 800 number agents to enhance their promotional opportunities. 

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