(WASHINGTON)—Declaring that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is lacking the funding needed to deal with the tremendous workloads resulting from retiring baby boomers and the recession, the president of the National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals of the American Federation of Government Employees made an impassioned appeal for additional resources and manpower at Social Security Administration field offices and teleservice centers to enable the agency to carry out its critical mission.
“The primary message AFGE wants to convey, with regard to service to the public, is that Social Security field offices and teleservice centers are in dire need of both increased staffing and Congressional oversight of its service delivery practices. Congressional oversight would hold SSA management accountable as to how funds have been and will be used to effectively carry out the mission of the agency, to meet expected levels of performance, to achieve modern customer-responsive service, and to protect program integrity,” stated Witold Skwierczynski, of the AFGE National Council of Field Operations Locals.
“While budgets from FY 2009 and FY 2010 offer significant increases, much of the additional funding will be absorbed by computer and technology overhauls. Staffing in field offices and teleservice centers was little more than 1:1 replacement. Very little of the money has been used to improve service delivery on the front lines in field offices and teleservice centers,” added Skwierczynski.
According to a 2009 GAO report, service delivery in SSA field offices has declined greatly in recent years. In FY 2008, more than 3 million customers waited for over 1 hour to be served, while currently 58% percent of customers calling field offices had calls go unanswered. “This is symptomatic of the failure of the agency to have a comprehensive service delivery plan. The public finds it difficult to interact with a Social Security employee when they need assistance,” said Skwierczynski.
Daniel Woosley, an SSA claims representative in the Louisville West SSA office and executive vice president of AFGE Local 3984 addressed SSA’s flawed Internet claims program, which in itself is creating yet another backlog at SSA. “It’s extremely important for members of Congress to know that the vast majority of retirement claims which are submitted to Social Security from the internet are plagued with errors. It has been my experience that at least two or three contacts are needed to clear the claim and get it processed. There are always additional questions which must be answered; then I have to wait for necessary forms to be signed and get additional information. At the same time, employees are ‘under the gun’ from management to clear as many of these claims as possible. If that means cutting corners or giving the claims only a cursory view – or none at all – we know the agency’s artificial goals have become more important than producing a quality product for the public.”
“Staffing losses and increased workloads are the greatest factors contributing to processing delays, backlogs, and loss of service. AFGE strongly believes that spending for the administration of SSA programs be set at a level that fits the needs to Social Security’s contributors and beneficiaries, rather than the arbitrary level that fits within the current political process,” concluded Skwierczynski.