Apr 28, 2014

Vision 2025: "A Society Where Most People Will Never Leave Their House Except To Be Entertained"

     Below is an e-mail from the head of the union that represents most Social Security employees. From what I hear, just about every Social Security employee who isn't a union member has also seen this e-mail.
From: Witold Skwierczynski
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2014 3:28 PM
To: All Bargaining Unit Employees
Subject: Vision 2025

SSA Bargaining Unit Employees:

On March 11, the union was given a copy of a draft plan produced by the National Academy of Public Administration (Academy) entitled "Long term Strategic Vision and Vision Elements for the Social Security Administration" .  The Academy was contracted by SSA to assist the Agency in developing Vision 2025.

SSA is now seeking your ideas for a Vision 2025 plan.  What SSA is not telling you is that they already have a draft plan that is a product of the Academy with the framework of that plan given to the Academy by SSA leadership.

The draft plan has certain principles that we cannot agree with.  First it states that the basis for a Vision for 2025 must be that online services are the primary means for delivering customer service.  This is a change from SSA's long time commitment to allow the customer to determine how they interact with SSA either by face-to-face contact, by phone, or by the Internet.  The entire basis of the field office structure and community based offices where the public can choose to receive face to face service is based on the concept of customer choice.

Another basis for their draft report is the following concept:

we (i.e.,SSA) automate processes to maximize operational efficiency, meet customer demand and diverse expectations, resulting in a smaller workforce and in reduced physical infrastructure.

The Academy's draft report is based on SSA 's desire to eliminate much, if not all, the field structure and to get rid of many employees.  That means closing field offices reducing staff, redeploying current staff and possibly laying off excess workers.   It also means the virtual elimination of face-to-face community based service.

The academy draft report proposes 29 elements under 5 categories: Direct Service Delivery to customers, Indirect service Support of Service delivery, Planning and management of information Resources, Workforce and Organizational Structure and Dynamics.

Item 1 of their 29 "vision elements" is "online self-service delivery is our primary service channel".  Thus, SSA clients will be expected to fend for themselves which is the real meaning of "self-service".

Item 2 states: "we provide direct service options (e.g., in-person, phone, on-line chat, video conference) in very limited circumstances, such as complex transactions and to meet the needs of vulnerable populations."  This means that no longer will a member of the public have a right to communicate with an SSA employee.  The future SSA requires a justification in limited circumstances before a member of the public can talk to an employee face-to-face, by phone, by video-conference or by chat.  The Agency will be staffed with a limited amount of interviewers to insure that only very few get this direct communication option.  My  belief is that  these limited number of interviewers will work in either centralized facilities like PSCs, Regional Offices and Baltimore Headquarters or they will work at home.

Item 3 calls for seamless and integrated customer service channels enabling customers to process transactions in one step start to finish.  That sounds nice but, unfortunately, there won't be any field offices providing seamless service.  When AFGE questioned the Academy about whether this could mean that DDS' would be federalized and SSA employees could be promoted to higher graded positions that adjudicate both the disability and non-disability portions of a claim, its clear that it was not their intention to disturb the current Federal and State relationship.

Item 4 proposes "integrated service delivery across SSA programs and with external partners to improve access to a broad suite of high quality government services ".  What's that about?   This proposal would increase the number of 3rd party claims takers that currently flood our offices with frequently substandard and incomplete claims.  It also looks like the plan is to provide that profit making 3rd party claims takers have more access to SSA's systems.  It's certainly cheaper to use 3rd parties to submit claims and charge either the public or a government agency (i.e. tax $$) for a service that is now provided by SSA employees. 
Item 5 recommends simplification which is a laudable goal but something that gives the union concern.  The simpler the work is, the employees who process it will be workers with lower grades.  The current grade structure is based on the complexity of work that we produce.  Significant legislative changes would be necessary to truly simplify the claims process.
Some of the high lights or, in my estimation, low lights, of the remaining of the recommendations follow:

  • "Our work processes are fully automated except for those decisions that require some human judgment."  This recommendation would potentially eliminate the current review of all i claims.  "Full automation" and "some human judgment"  means that most cases will be automated without any review process (i.e., judgment).
  • "Our work is "portable" (e.g. electronic case files enable matching workload with available workforce capacity, advancing telework)."  This proposal is consistent with the vision to eliminate face-to-face service and, therefor, dismantle the field office structure.  Remaining employees will work at home- not in offices.  Consequently, no more face to face service in 2025.
  • "All our support functions (e.g., Human Resources, Finance) are provided through a shared service model (e.g., within SSA, across government and by contract)."  This proposal envisions widespread contracting out of work currently performed in regional offices, Baltimore Headquarters and Area Director offices to the private sector.  
  • Another proposal envisions the IT workforce as primarily focused on development of systems to "effectively leverage private sector services to meet business needs."  This is another indication that SSA's vision is to privatize more and more of what we do.
  • "Technology advances allow us to have a significantly smaller and more virtual workforce".  There will be fewer of us and we won't be in the same building - the workforce of alienation.  
  • "We make greater use of generalists with an emphasis on problem-solving, communication and data analytics skills."  The Academy only visited 1 field office in Washington DC before making these proposals.  Obviously they don't understand the technical complexity of the SSA programs and that few can be effective generalists due to this complexity and requiring employees to be generalists increases stress and causes health and safety problems.
  • "Our "blended" workforce delivers services with greater use of project-based employee and contractor teams."  Why is the current SSA leadership so eager to contract out our jobs?
  • "Our communication and business processes enable a dispersed workforce that is no longer working in centralized traditional offices."  
  • "Our physical infrastructure is significantly reduced and re-aligned based on service delivery changes, IT and automation investments, and workforce shifts."
On March 12, 2014 the union met with the Academy to discuss these draft proposals.  Obviously we objected to virtually all of them and made the case for maintaining the community based field office structure that continues to allow claimants to determine how they want to get SSA services - including face-to- face services.  We argued that there is nothing wrong with SSA being a government agency made up of government employees. We told them that SSA's overhead is only 1.4%.  This is cheaper than any other benefit program and significantly cheaper than any insurance company.  We argued that its our experience that many people who file claims online make poor decisions that result in permanent benefit loss for themselves and their families and the option of discussing benefit choices with a trained SSA employee is essential to the service that SSA should provide to taxpayers.  We told them that one should not accept continuing reductions in SSA's administrative budget and that what the Agency needs are strong advocates who demand that Congress provide SSA sufficient revenue so that SSA can continue to provide first class face-to-face and telephone services to those members of the public that choose to use them.

Academy members stated that their vision of 2025 is a society where most people will never leave their house except to be entertained. Therefore, there will be no need for offices and face-to-face options.

What a horrible vision! It's a vision of alienation where people in the future will not interact with others except virtually.  I don't accept this vision.  Most SSA employees don't accept this vision.  Those who talk to the public all day know that many couldn't survive without being able to deal directly with an SSA employee to complete their business.

So SSA now wants you to participate in this charade of seeking your input when they have already decided to significantly reduce services.  The recent office and contact station closings, reduction of hours that field offices are open to the public, initiatives to centralize work like moving review of Internet claims away from field offices, elimination of services like numi-lites and benefit verifications, the sudden management acceptance of flexiplace after years of opposition, the installation of self-help kiosks, the requirements demanded by SSA that employees sell Internet claims and services to the public, My SSA, video conferencing used for hearings, further expansion of regional hearing centers, starving small offices of staff till they become non-viable and close, etc. are all SSA strategies to reduce staff, consolidate operations and to transform SSA into an Agency that no longer provides the public with personal service.

The union has decided to offer it's own vision for the future.  This vision would maintain the field structure, continue to offer the claimant filing options, reduce unnecessary management, create more promotional opportunities for employees and enhance their benefits, make the field office a safe and stress free environment, continue to provide services to the public that they request and preserve the integrity of SSA records.  This is a vision that puts the public first and mirrors the services of what the public wants not what some bureaucrat has decided the public should get.  It puts a high value on employee health and safety and enhancement of employees careers and employee benefits. 


After you vote, think about what SSA wants to do.  An elimination of the field office structure means an elimination of your job.  IT'S TIME TO FIGHT TO PRESERVE YOUR JOB.  Please periodically check the AFGE Council 220 website at www.afgec220.org. for actions that you can take to preserve your job and to keep up with what SSA and the union is doing.  Also, check out our Facebook page at RallyPoint.

Witold Skwierczynski
President
AFGE Council of SSA Field Operations

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing that from a document that lays out vision without much in the way of underlying details that the union, of which I was a member for many years) has found so many details. Yes, they are details that in the absence of SSA saying what they mean the union has filled that in. But as much as I respect labor and the need for the worker to be represented with management, the union is making most of this up. Kind of like that TV show, "Whose line is it anyway", they are taking the points in the proposal and telling us what SSA management means, riffing on the themes in a union colored manner.

I'm sorry, but while the absence of management providing details is kind of understandable if the plan is really being built, the fact Witold has somehow been able to acquire and now publicize those details .... No Witold is making things up, postulating what the plan means.

I'm going to guess that he has some points solid, and some far off the mark.

But in the year 2025, the cadre of new retirees and applicants will have been exposed to online banking and smartphones for over 20 years.

Anonymous said...

ubiquitous online services are coming...the union is just delaying the inevitable.

As noted above, by 2025, people that are not computer literate will be few and far between, for them, personal interaction may be available.

Anonymous said...

So many of the comments which I read on this blog state a blind faith that SSA's system can successfully operate online in lieu of local office personnel. A few months before the date when I became eligible for full retirement benefits, I attempted for at least 6 weeks to get onto "My Social Security" and was repeatedly informed that it was not available at that time. Finally, I was given access only to be told, without explanation, that the system was unable to access my information. I had to go to the local field office, wait 45 minutes, then a helpful young woman took care of the whole thing in less than 10 minutes. I don't know the percentage of the time that other members of the public have this problem, but SSA must work the bugs out of its system before it will be useful to the public.

Anonymous said...

My friend with her lawyer husband just signed up for Medicare only online. And neglected to take Part B, which she needs because of her insurance situation. If she had just talked to a CR and filed that application by phone, she could have saved several hours of aggravation, mostly on hold. When intelligent people make serious errors filing online, the program is too complicated to be left to the public to figure out.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, all the youngsters think that they will never age and have no difficulty using online services because they are such uber-pros now. Oh children, I hate to break it to you but some day, when you are 50+, some 12 year old (not even born yet) will come up with a computer program or embedded chip that you, once the wizard, cannot operate properly. And you will say, I remember when this old person told me this was going to happen and I laughed! You will not be laughing then. That Academy is most likely nothing more than Booze-Allen/Halliburton implants salivating at the mouth.

Anonymous said...

This is no different from what has been happening in the private sector. That's why employment has been so slow to recover even though business is doing quite well. The private sector has learned to be more efficient and government is doing the same thing.

We live in an online world now and I think the union's predictable response will meet with the same success that the luddites enjoyed during the industrial revolution.

Anonymous said...

Feel for the SSA employees. But this is the wave of the future.

Remember, this is 2025 over 10 years from now. By then, you would think most of the kinks of the online system will be worked out (you would think). There should be some face-to-face SSA office maybe 1 per county. But computers are making it more efficient.

Remember, this is a public entity. Kudos for the SSA thinking about saving money. SSA employees should be given fair notice and plan for jobs in the private sector.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the administration of any federal program: by 2025 (or sooner) the proper question will be "What does the government NOT know about you?"

Anonymous said...

Going online everything would work if we were a country like most in Asia or western (heck, even eastern) Europe where good internet is widely available for free and very available for cheap.

Here in the good ol' US of A where telecoms aren't required to share their infrastructure, each has to build up its own, causing huge costs to consumers (relative to these other countries where regulators force telecoms to share more infrastructure). Couple that with a near complete lack of free, public internet (starbucks doesn't count ;)) and a large portion of the country (in area, not population) with no or very crappy internet capabilities, and this online only idea is DOA.

Anonymous said...

Quick question -- is the purpose of SSA to A) administer a cluster of benefits programs for the good of the American people, or B) provide a warm, dry, quiet place for CRs, SCTs, ALJs, etc. to sit for around 8 hours a day, year after year after year, without ever having to learn anything new?

I can hear Witold screaming "B! B!" now.

Anonymous said...

The Social Security Administration is a "jobs creator." It provides well-paying jobs for thousands of people, and many bureaucrats within the agency would like to create thousands more jobs.

Anonymous said...

Having dealt with Witold more than a few times from the other side of the fence, this is nothing new. He typically exaggerates most management proposals, trying to scare the hell out of the bargaining unit. What he conveniently fails to mention here is that in his many years of being the designated loudmouth of the union, SSA has had numerous "visions", "five year plans", and other such agendas which rarely came to fruition. I don't think this "plan", which is a vision of what the agency will be like in eleven years, is any exception.

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