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May 17, 2012

Astrue's Statement To Senate Finance Committee -- The Future Doesn't Look Too Good For Service Delivery

     From Michael Astrue's written statement to the Senate Finance Committee today with some added bolding:
... [I]n FY [Fiscal Year] 2011 [which ended September 30, 2010], while we received unprecedented new workloads, Congress cut our budget more deeply than in any year of the previous two decades. Congress also rescinded a sizable portion of our IT [Information Technology] carryover funding, which is our best mechanism for improving productivity. With staff reductions caused by hiring freezes and attrition, our work force is contracting rapidly, field offices are consolidating, and we are struggling to maintain recent levels of service. When I leave office in 2013, the agency will have about the same number of employees that we had when I arrived in 2007, even though our workloads have increased dramatically. Since FY 2007, retirement and survivor claims have increased by 26 percent and disability claims have increased by over 31 percent. ...

Let me be clear that our ALJs’ [Administrative Law Judges'] improved productivity has not resulted in more allowances. Our ALJs are not meeting our productivity goals by “paying down the backlog,” as has sometimes been alleged. In fact, our hearing level allowance rate dropped over 4 percentage points this past year. ...

The sheer volume of work our employees handle is incredible. For instance, in FY 2011, more than 45 million people visited our field offices across the Nation. Despite the high volume of visitors, we reduced wait times in our field offices by more than 9 percent from FY 2010. [Notice that he's talking about last fiscal year. The numbers this fiscal year probably aren't as good]...

Last year, callers to our 800 Number had the shortest wait time and lowest busy signal rates ever. We reduced the time spent waiting for an agent by 45 percent, from 326 seconds in FY 2008 to 180 seconds in FY 2011. [But again he's talking about last year. Things aren't going so well this year as we'll see below.] We cut our busy rate by over 70 percent since FY 2008. We attribute much of our improved performance to hiring additional teleservice representatives in FY 2009 and FY 2010, along with several technological advancements to make our 800-number more efficient. ...

Regardless of our technology improvements, under current funding we project that our 800-number service will deteriorate significantly because we will not have a sufficient number of people to answer calls. We expect that busy signals will rise from 3 percent in FY 2011 to 6 percent in FY 2012. Our average speed of answer will increase from 180 seconds in FY 2011 to 285 seconds in FY 2012. 

Overall service also will deteriorate in our field offices and processing centers because staffing losses do not happen evenly across the country. This year alone, nearly one-third of our field offices have experience more than 10 percent attrition, and 15 offices have lost over 30 percent of their staff.

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  • 12 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Maybe he is not giving FY12 stats because the FY still has 4+ months left.

    4:38 PM, May 17, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I don't know why you try to make jabs that this year's numbers will be worse. Obviously they probably will since he indicated there is increasing workloads and attrition. Why can't you just commend the frontline employees for doing their jobs? SSA is an agency under siege, but we do our jobs with pride. None of us really care what a bloodsucking lawyer has to say about it.

    5:47 PM, May 17, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Our ALJs are not meeting our productivity goals by “paying down the backlog,” as has sometimes been alleged. In fact, our hearing level allowance rate dropped over 4 percentage points this past year. ...

    That is a deceptive statement. ALJs approved 58% of all cases disposed of by ODAR in 2011, but if you eliminate dismissals, which count as dispositions, but not decisions, the percentage of favorable decisions would increase. Also, Astrue conveniently forgets to mention the Senior Attorney Adjudicator decisions, of which there were 53,000 last fiscal year. Obviously ALJs are going to issue fewer favorable decisions if the senior attorneys are taking away 53,000 from the ALJs.

    6:29 PM, May 17, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    anon 6:29,
    I think you have to include dismissals in the percentages. Before and ALJ can dismiss, he/she is supposed to review the case to determine whether it can be paid on record. It's my experience that most "no show" dismissals are weak cases anyway.

    I agree with your point about Conehead omitting senior attorney cases. My favorable percentage has decreased and I suspect this is one of the reasons. Another reason is the horrible economy has pushed desperate people to file disability claims. Most of us feel sympathy for these folks but we can't pay them because of our feelings.

    8:43 PM, May 17, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Compassionate insiders like anon 8:43 are indeed rare on some of these blogs. And while no one expects sympathy pays the mere understanding of a claimants plight is great acknowledgement to make. I wish more would speak up.

    9:34 PM, May 17, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Most SSA employees are compassionate and extremely patient. Most claimants are obviously on their best behavior in front of the ALJ. If attorneys or ALJs spent a few days in the field office maybe you would understand why the frontline employees become somewhat jaded over time. A decent amount of the time the claimants are totally rude and abrasive. They do not want to understand the rules of Social Security or SSI. When you try to explain the reality of the rules they boast how they will get an attorney and take it to the judge. If half these claimants knew how to read a simple letter or follow directions the hearing backlog would plummet, at least for the non-disability cases. And I am not saying this for sympathy for my perspective or to try to bash the public. It is simply a reality of the current state of affairs. I have a lot of sympathy for people and I truly feel blessed I am not in their shoes, but when a significant amount of people you have to serve have little respect for you obviously it is going to wear down morale.

    10:17 PM, May 17, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Now California is trying to reduce each DDS employee to 38 hrs per week instead of 40 to save dollars, so this means less net cases will be done in Cali! Hope SSA can enforce their contract wit CA and stop letting the DDSs do what they want.

    1:08 AM, May 18, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    You could hire a fair number of CRs and TSRs with the money SSA chose to spend this month and next adding OGC attorneys and ALJs....

    9:20 AM, May 18, 2012  
    Blogger Nobbins said...

    From this excerpt, I really fail to see why a congressmen would increase funding for SSA. Call wait times? Busy signals? This is the big reason you need more funding?

    What about all the money lost in overtime pay? Loss to the economy because disabled people can't purchase basic necessities? Deaths of those waiting years for court decisions on Medicare eligibility? Inability to prepare for baby boomer retirement?

    If I didn't know better I'd say that Astrue has no first hand experience in an overworked FO or DDS; only numbers and percentages on a chart his secretary gave him. Please, please, please retire...

    10:06 AM, May 18, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I disagree with the jaded field office worker who complains that visitors to his office are rude, abrasive and uncooperative. In my experience working in field offices, 30+ years, this is the exception. Most people appreciate what we do, try their best to read and understand our letters, and cooperate with us. If you don't have that experience, it may not be the public that is the problem.

    10:31 AM, May 18, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    As a learned friend of mine once said, " I am constrained by the Regulations". This is oh so true. I have denied many that broke my heart and paid some I could hardly stand to do, however, I was constrained by the Regulations to do as I did. This is not a fun job. Every claimant that appears before me is a wonderful person, a Mom, a Dad, a Brother, a Sister, a Grandparent, a Veteran, and they all have a story. Some are very sad. Some have caused their own problems, many haven't. Life is unfair and can be cruel. Many a times I have remembered that "if not for the Grace of God" I could be on the other side of the bench. A lot of Judges are just like me. A few are not. Most of us don't play God on these decisions, we are simply constrained by the Regulations one way or another.

    12:10 PM, May 18, 2012  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    @ 10:31 AM:

    If you read all that I wrote I do not consider myself jaded. I just admit that it is difficult to stay optimistic and it is understandable that some employees do become jaded. I do not know in which field offices you have worked, but I work at one in an inner city ghetto. From the management down to the clerical workers, we all feel extremely frustrated by the claimants. We do not necessarily blame them for the predicaments claimants are in and we try to be as understanding as possible. But we would be lying if at times we are about ready to break. Perhaps if I was located in a suburban field office I may have a different perspective on things. This is just one humble civil servant's honest opinion.

    5:27 PM, May 18, 2012  

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