Feb 27, 2017

Missing A Crucial Page

     We've had several reports from North Carolina attorneys of Administrative Law Judge decisions arriving in attorney offices that lack their final page and the final page is crucial because it contains the decisional paragraph which says what the actual decision is. This is affecting decisions from multiple hearing offices. I suspect this could be a national problem since the printing of decisions has been centralized. I hope that the field offices and payment centers that effectuate these decisions are receiving the entire decision.

"Billy With Social Security"

     From The Gazette of Colorado Springs:
Lately I've heard from a half a dozen people who have gotten phone calls from "Billy with Social Security." ... We can tell you "Billy" is not an employee of the Social Security Administration. ... They say that Billy claimed he could help them get disability payments from Social Security if they would share some of their personal information with him. ...
According to the Office of the Inspector General, which prevents and detects fraud in the Social Security Administration, they hear about crooks impersonating their employees. I'm told the intent may be to steal your identity or raid your bank account. They may ask for your Social Security number, date of birth, your mother's maiden name, or your bank account information. Those should be red flags. Don't give a stranger those details. ...

Feb 26, 2017

No Social Security Cuts To Be Proposed "Now"

     The Treasury Secretary said this morning that there would be no Social Security cuts proposed "now" in this Administration's first budget. I would caution that Republicans sometimes think that Social Security Disability benefits aren't really Social Security and, of course, they never regard Supplemental Security Income benefits as Social Security.

Feb 25, 2017

The Sort Of Contract Battle That Mostly Stays Out Of Sight

From the minutes of a recent meeting of the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB):

... In the morning session, the Board met with Robert Klopp, the Chief Information Officer and Deputy Commissioner for Systems at SSA, and John Garrigues, Chief Programs Officer for the SSA Disability Case Processing System (DCPS) development team. Mr. Klopp updated the Board on SSA’s in-house efforts to develop a second-generation disability case processing system (the DCPS2 project). The project was launched in fall 2015 after DCPS’s earlier efforts failed to produce a usable system. This effort, DCPS1, included a contract with Lockheed Martin. Mr. Klopp said that his office has conducted some early testing of DCPS2 with several state Disability Determination Services offices (DDSs). He reported that users found the system useful and intuitive. He acknowledged that, as yet, the system can support only quick disability determinations and compassionate allowance cases. Mr. Klopp said he expects the system to be able to handle about 50% of all cases by May 2017. Mr. Klopp also discussed a disability case processing and management system in development by MicroPact, a private company. MicroPact recently merged with Iron Data Solutions, a sub-contractor under Lockheed Martin on DCPS1.  
MicroPact has informed SSA that it is building a system for the DDSs and believes that its system will meet the needs of the individual DDSs better than the system being developed internally. Mr. Klopp said the MicroPact project was in its early stages of development. He also expressed the opinion that the MicroPact system does not yet have and may never have as broad a range of functionalities as he claims that DCPS2 will have. He expressed the view that MicroPact is selling its product to Congress before it is built through an intense lobbying effort. Mr. Klopp said that he is looking for a fair and independent evaluation of the two systems before one was chosen over the other. He also said that he believes that such an evaluation will be impossible until MicroPact has completed the first phase of development of its software, which Mr. Klopp said MicroPact projects to be complete in spring, 2017. 
In its afternoon session, the Board met with Tom Sechler, the Chief Executive Officer of MicroPact. Mr. Sechler explained to the Board that the current corporate structure of MicroPact was established in 2015, when the company merged with Iron Data Solutions, of which Mr. Sechler was CEO. Although Iron Data worked with Lockheed Martin on DCPS1, Mr. Sechler stated that Iron Data should not be held responsible for the failure of DCPS1, as the language in that contract limited Iron Data’s role in the project and precluded it from raising with SSA concerns Sechler said that Iron Data had with Lockheed’s management of the project. Iron Data is also the developer of the legacy disability case processing systems currently in use by 47 DDSs. Mr. Sechler said this experience gives his company an advantage over competitors, as staff at Iron Data understand DDS processes. Mr. Sechler said that MicroPact is currently investing in developing that system with its own funding. If SSA chooses to use their system, Mr. Sechler said that MicroPact would charge SSA only for installation and upkeep, which Mr. Sechler said would be less than SSA currently pays. Mr. Sechler hopes to prove to Congress that he has a system worth investing in and that a version of the software would be ready for use by April 2017. Mr. Sechler was asked directly whether he would support Mr. Klopp’s call for an independent evaluation of the two systems in the Spring of 2017 but did not say whether he does so.

Feb 23, 2017

He Felt He Was Getting The Run-Around

     From the Patriot-News:
A Harrisburg [PA] man is accused of threatening to go into the Social Security office in Harrisburg and start shooting, Capitol police say.
Rodney Deavers, 46, of Harrisburg, was charged Feb. 11 with making terroristic threats and harassment. He was released on $10,000 bail.
Deavers is accused of threatening to go into the Social Security office on Walnut Street "and start shooting," said Troy Thompson, spokesman for Capitol police. ...
Deavers told police he was upset with how his claim for disability/workman's compensation was progressing and felt he was "being given the run-around," Thompson said.

Feb 21, 2017

ALJ Sues Over LGBT Diversity Training

     From the Washington Post:
Citing his First Amendment rights and religious protections under the Civil Rights Act, a Social Security Administration judge in Texas who refused to watch an LGBT diversity training video is suing his superiors to avoid being fired, saying he was subject to a “religiously hostile work environment.”
Judge Gary Suttles said in a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Texas that the Social Security Administration, or SSA, should be barred from taking any disciplinary action against him at least until his religious discrimination claims are heard by a federal employment panel. ...
Though his complaint describes a “sterling work record,” Suttles was criticized and investigated by the SSA in 2015 after he scoffed at a Gulf War veteran’s post-traumatic stress disorder during a disability benefits hearing. Suttles questioned whether the veteran, a 44-year-old who served as a fueler on an aircraft carrier, had experienced true trauma during the war. ...
     Suttles has a 15% reversal rate, meaning he turns down 85% of the claimants whose cases he hears. That's an extraordinarily low number. By any standard, Suttles is an extreme outlier.

Hiring Freeze Update

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 10:14 AM
Subject: Update on the Presidential Executive Order Freezing Federal Hiring
Importance: High

A Message To All SSA Employees

Subject: Update on the Presidential Executive Order Freezing Federal Hiring

On January 25, I informed you of the President’s memorandum freezing Federal hiring. During this time, we will use certain, limited flexibilities provided to us by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that include career ladder promotions or reassignments and details to fill positions that ensure the continuation of essential services and benefit payments.  We will also continue to ensure that our public safety and national security responsibilities are met. 

Keep in mind, this pause is temporary while OPM develops broader plans for the Federal workforce over the next few months.  I will continue to do my part to keep you informed and I sincerely appreciate your dedication to our work and the public we serve.   

Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner