May 20, 2009
Christina Erling
(202) 639-6419

Social Security Employees Report Hardships, Stress

WASHINGTON – Despite a top ten ranking by the Partnership for Public Service, the Social Security Administration continues to be an agency in dire need of new leadership according to the American Federation of Government Employees, who represent more than 48,000 Social Security workers across the United States.

“While we applaud the noble endeavor of the Partnership for Public Service to recognize excellency in federal government agencies, we can’t ignore the unfiltered facts that come to us from our members at SSA – that the policies put in place by SSA Commissioner Astrue continue to press unnecessary hardships on employees and degrade one of the nation’s most responsive and best-run public agencies into a troubled organization that no longer serves the best interests of retired and disabled Americans and their families.”

A January 2009 GAO report documented the current conditions at SSA field offices around the country. SSA staff visited by GAO indicated that they have less time to spend with customers, “potentially leading to mistakes and also limiting the ability of staff to ensure that customers fully understand their options and benefits.” That, in turn, has increased the stress on SSA employees.

GAO asked 153 SSA employees at 21 offices to rate their stress levels they experienced trying to complete their work in a “timely manner,” and 65 percent reported feeling stress to a “great” or “very great” degree. The stress, GAO said, was felt most acutely by office managers, 74 percent of whom described high levels of stress. Moreover, the workload pressures have “led to cutbacks in the amount of time allocated for training and mentoring new staff,” while SSA has reduced the number of continuing disability reviews and SSI redeterminations that are conducted to ensure that disability beneficiaries are paid the correct amounts.

“The data from the GAO report and the reports from our field offices do not paint a rosy picture,” continued Gage. “These are the facts and the horror stories we get in from the field. They can’t be ignored.”

Further underscoring the stress and dissatisfaction from SSA employees is a recent arbitration ruling for a grievance filed by the Association of Administration Law Judges (AALJ) where Arbitrator Michael Murphy issued a stinging rebuke of Commissioner Astrue’s conduct. In his meetings with the judges, the arbitrator wrote, Astrue acted “in an abrupt, abusive and hostile manner.” One of the judges, a former deputy general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, testified after his meeting with Astrue that he “had never been treated in such a discourteous manner” and “fully appreciated” from Astrue’s actions “how threatened a union member could feel.”

Moreover, policy changes enacted by Commissioner Astrue’s administration recently prompted the AFL CIO Executive Council, along with the AFGE Social Security General Committee leadership, to issue a no confidence vote in Commissioner Astrue’s ability to effectively and successfully lead the agency.

“Since its inception, Social Security employees have delivered quality service to America’s retired and disabled. It is tragic that their ability to perform this service has been hindered by faulty leadership,” concluded Gage.

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