SSA Official Traveled to Events to Promote Privatizing Social Security
(WASHINGTON) – The National Social Security Council of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today questioned the appearance of Social Security Administration (SSA) Deputy Commissioner James B. Lockhart III at events held by congressional Republicans that promoted privatizing Social Security.
“It is inexcusable to take money out of the Social Security Trust Fund, which is paid for by Americans’ FICA contributions and pays for benefits, so Deputy Commissioner Lockhart can go on a tour around the country advocating a plan that may end Social Security as we know it,” said Debbie Fredericksen, executive vice president of the National Social Security Council.
Fredericksen continued, “First SSA attempted to force career employees into promoting privatizing Social Security. Now Lockhart is using his position with the Social Security Administration, traveling around the country, to promote privatizing Social Security. Normally SSA salaries, per diem, airfare, hotel accommodations, and miscellaneous travel expenses ultimately are paid out of the Social Security Trust Fund, as normal administrative costs. If Mr. Lockhart's salary and travel expenses are being paid by SSA to promote privatizing Social Security, this is scandalous."
In mid-January, national media attention focused on SSA employees and resources being used in a questionable public relations campaign to promote the idea that Social Security is in crisis and that privatized accounts are the answer. On Jan. 28, two Council officials testified before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on propagandizing by SSA, and on Feb. 2, the Council filed a grievance against SSA over the issue.
In response, SSA Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart issued a public statement that seemingly refuted Council claims, "I have never, nor will I ever, ask or direct Social Security employees to promote or advance any specific proposal for Social Security reform." Barnhart’s statement also asserted that and “the messages we are using, have not changed in the past decade.”
Fredericksen made two points in rebuttal to Commissioner Barnhart’s statement:
1. Though Commissioner Barnhart may not have personally asked employees to promote specific proposals, employees have been enrolled in a public relations campaign that hyped theoretical insolvency and advanced the idea that “modernization [of Social Security] must include private investment accounts.“ (SSA’s Long Term Challenges Talking Points, presented to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on 1/28/05)
2. SSA messages in fact have changed over the past decade. SSA communications have been changed to include proposals by the president’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security, which was established in 2001. Communications have been revised to include language hyping solvency concerns and to promote privatized accounts.
The Social Security Council, officially known as the National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals (Council 220), represents about 28,000 employees of the Social Security Administration who work in field offices and all national calling centers.
The American Federation of Government Employees is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.