Message From Commissioner
Message To All SSA And DDS Employees
Subject: Ways and Means Hearing
Last week, I testified before the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S House of Representatives, one of our two authorizing committees in the Congress. I want to share with you some highlights of what I shared with lawmakers. You also can see the full testimony at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/legislation/testimony_042308.htm.
We are using the additional $148 million allotted to us this fiscal year to not only replace losses, but to hire additional front-line service personnel, Administrative Law Judges and support staff.
More money alone will not solve all of the service challenges we face. We also must innovate, and we are making great strides on that front as well.
Using alternative forms of authentication, retirees born in this country no longer need to present their birth certificate as proof of age. Eliminating this requirement is already easing the burden for both the claimant and our employees.
Soon we will unveil a new look to our website. In addition, in a few months, we plan on launching an easy-to-use and highly accurate online benefit estimator. In September, we will turn on a simplified retirement application that will make filing over the Internet much easier.
We are testing other concepts that can help our busiest field offices, including kiosk computers in waiting areas and office television monitors that silently inform visitors of the documents they need for each service, as well as a menu of services they can use by phone or computer from their home or office. Our notices also need updating so that we tell people more completely and clearly what they need to provide to us in order to receive the quickest response.
On the disability front, the national rollout of Quick Disability Determinations is allowing thousands of truly disabled applicants to receive both a decision and a benefit check within weeks. A pilot later this year with compassionate allowances should further reduce the number of cases requiring an appeal.
We are embracing technologies like the electronic file, video hearings and the new National Hearing Center, which enables us to shift work away from the busiest hearing offices. I am very excited about an upcoming pilot allowing claimants to attend video hearings at their attorney's office. This could be another win for both the agency and the people we serve.
We continue to make updates to the Listing of Impairments that determine whether someone meets the definition of disability. Some important listings have not been updated in decades. I'm pleased to report that we now have a schedule in place to update all medical listings every five years, and we’re going to try to do even better than that.
A proposal requiring claimant representatives to use iAppeals will eliminate an enormous amount of unnecessary repetitive work in our hearing offices.
Important discussions are under way with the states in New Orleans today over a unified IT system to replace the 54 separate COBOL-based systems currently employed by the various Disability Determination Services. If we can obtain a sufficient degree of consensus, I will ask Congress to fund this critical project in FY 2010.
On October 1, we will be forced to absorb more than $400 million in automatic inflationary increases. These costs, combined with an extended Continuing Resolution, would have devastating consequences for our forward momentum. Timely support of the President's budget is critical to maintaining our progress, and you can be sure that I am personally making our case to as many Members of Congress as possible. Today I have two meetings with Members of the House Appropriations Committee.
Aside from the hearing, I also want to let you know that we are working hard on drafting a new Agency Strategic Plan, which we hope to complete this summer. It should give you a better sense of how we will move forward in a time of rising workloads.
Finally, thanks again to all of you for all you do for the American public. With all the talk of data and technology, I never forget that our foundation is the care and hard work of our employees.
Michael J. Astrue