The House Social Security Subcommittee hearing on service delivery at Social Security's field offices has begun. Here are some excerpts from the written testimony:
In our January 2009 report, we recommended that SSA [Social Security Administration] establish standards for field office customer waiting times and phone service to help identify and improve offices with poor service. SSA did not act on this recommendation stating that it would create problems by diverting staff already spread thin across field offices.
- Joe Dirago, Manager Newburgh Field Office and President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA):
Field Offices are also having difficulties with some law firms that advertise nationwide to take claims and appeals for claimants. The work product is often deficient, or some send us only skeleton Internet applications. Often we spend months trying to get all the information we need to process the claim, which disadvantages the claimant. Many attorneys will not file their claims and appeals electronically. Field Offices have to manually load these paper applications into our system, which is labor intensive. We believe there should be greater accountability for law firms that represent claimants; otherwise they should collect their own fees instead of SSA doing so.
In many of our busiest offices, customers line up as early as 7:00 AM to make sure that they can be served when the office doors open. This can lead to security issues when people try to cut the line or become frustrated with waiting.
- Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) , AFL-CIO:
Commissioner Astrue has testified that iClaims are more accurate than claims taken by SSA employees. What he is not telling Congress is that ALL iClaims are reviewed and corrected by SSA employees before payment can be authorized. In addition, the most common error, incorrect month of election, is not considered an error under Commissioner Astrue’s financial literacy concept. Under this philosophy the client is responsible for determining the best time to begin their benefits and the SSA employee shouldn’t interfere in that decision even if the claimant's choice appears clearly disadvantageous. This philosophy as led to many claimants making uninformed decisions which will result in thousands of dollars in lost benefits. However, since claimants can’t make errors regarding the month they elect benefits, SSA’s Internet statistics look good.Skwierczynski undermines his credibility by coming across as an angry man. This does not mean that what he is saying is wrong. He knows what he is talking about.
SSA does not and will not perform audits on the Internet claims at the point they are submitted by the applicant. Instead, the claim is reviewed after an SSA employee makes the necessary corrections. This creates the illusion that the public completed the claims correctly. ...
The Commissioner announced last year that SSA’s iClaims process would allow claimants to file Internet claims without SSA employee review starting this year. SSA employees and AFGE were shocked and appalled that such changes would proceed, due to the vast number of claims that require correction before decisions about entitlement or payment amount are effectuated. The Commissioner has delayed implementation of a non‐reviewed iclaims filing process. This delay should be permanent. ...
While resources are limited and field/TSC [Teleservice Centers] staffing levels have not increased in relation to additional workloads, SSA management continues to engage in unethical behavior in processing work and measuring the amount of work completed. SSA management engages in a variety of questionable practices which are designed to enhance individual office statistical performance. Such practices include processing claims for individuals who are clearly ineligible for benefits, and padding statistics by taking unnecessary actions such as reissuing Medicare cards to every client in the office whether or not they request such cards. Systems tricks are employed by some managers to reflect inaccurate processing times in order to claim better statistical performance.