Apr 2, 2017

Inadequate Budget Causes Declines In Customer Service

     From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):
Years of Social Security Administration (SSA) funding cuts have hampered the agency’s ability to serve the American people ...
The current 2017 spending measure, set to expire at the end of April, froze funding for basic SSA functions like staffing field offices and call centers at last year’s level. ...
SSA’s core operating budget shrank by 10 percent from 2010 to 2016 in inflation-adjusted terms even as the demands on SSA reached record highs. The freeze on SSA’s operating funds in the 2017 continuing resolution (CR) only stressed the agency further. Anticipating the CR, SSA imposed a hiring freeze in the spring of 2016 and then eliminated nearly all overtime when the CR began.  ... Beneficiaries and taxpayers are paying the price:
  • SSA has lost 1,400 field staff since the hiring freeze began. As a result, 18,000 field office visitors every day must wait more than an hour for service. Nearly half of visitors must wait at least three weeks for an appointment.
  • SSA’s teleservice centers have 450 fewer agents than they need to handle the 37 million calls they receive each year. As a result, most callers to SSA’s national 800 number don’t get their questions resolved. The average wait for an agent is 18 minutes, and nearly half of callers hang up before connecting. Another 13 percent of callers get busy signals.
  • SSA has been able to hire more staff to address appeals for disability benefits, in part due to the $150 million in dedicated funding that policymakers provided for this purpose in 2017.  As a result, SSA has made initial progress in reducing its record backlogs. But that progress will disappear unless the President and Congress continue to provide adequate funding in the final 2017 appropriation bill and in future years.
  • The hiring freeze and cutbacks in overtime have hampered SSA’s ability to complete behind-the-scenes work, leading to growing delays in processing applications or changing benefits when a beneficiary’s circumstances change. This creates unnecessary hardship for beneficiaries. It also costs taxpayers, since it allows overpayments to build up and delays their collection — increasing the risk that they will never be recovered. By the end of 2016, the number of pending behind-the-scenes tasks had more than doubled. ...

18 comments:

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Anonymous said...

The backlog of disability cases was the result of mismanagement. When management swung the pendulum so far over to Quality to the point of being ridiculous, e g., requiring ALJ's to type extremely detailed, often unnecessary, decision writing instructions, this slowed case processing on a massive level and created the backlog. What's worse, they turned a deaf ear to the obvious mounting backlog while continuing to push Quality beyond reason. As I was told decades ago when I started with the Agency, ALJ decisions are not Cadillacs, but Pintos. Numbers were always emphasized and rewarded over Quality, but dedicated ALJ's and Attorney decision writer's frequently took the extra time necessary to produce a good, quality decision. When management swung the pendulum so far over to Quality, created Quality Review positions from Attorney decision writers, they went way too far. You lost Experienced Attorney decision writers to higher paying Quality Review positions, and eBB was a tedious disaster for many ALJ's and decision writer's already well experienced with the FIT templates. Thus, slower processing of cases.

Even though management could obviously see the backlog growing, they chose not to do things which have historically been extremely effective in reducing the backlog, such as getting the Senior Attorney Program as it originally began under STDP 7, up and running ASAP. The creation of the SA Adjudication Team was counter productive and a joke given the few number of SA's selected. Management eventually proposed the AAJ, and then the Term Limited ALJ ideas, which is anyone who has been with SSA/ODAR any appreciable time were not proposals going anywhere fast. You had experienced SA's in ODAR Hearing Offices across the country who were willing and ready to perform original SA work to help reduce the backlog. But management refused to budge claiming they needed SA's to write decisions for ALJ's, and throw everything but the kitchen sink in each decision, as though they were writing for Supreme Court Judges. Many of those in management were ones back in the day who regarded the SA Program with disdain, and tried to do everything to destroy it, which they did by chopping off pieces of the Program each year.

The decision to promote non-attorney decision writer's through the ranks with the roll out of HPI in 2000 has also been a disaster. ALJ's do not need to type extremely detailed writing instructions for experienced Attorney decision writer's, but they do for non-attorney writers. Unfortunately, it took 16 years for management to finally concede this was a mistake.

In addition, managements decision to create a more centralized process and setting up those extra offices has also not proven to have been cost effective, especially shipping off ALJ cases to unknown decision writer's. Former Acting Commissioner Colvin also starved ODAR financially.

What is most troubling is why Manager's who have proven to be ineffective in the past, engaged in wrongdoing, etc., are perpetually promoted to even higher level management positions? These are the same managers who have now swung the pendulum all the way over to Quantity v. Quality, set unreasonable quotas, and intend to use punitive management policies to enforce them. One would think if these Managers learned anything from the past, drastically swinging the pendulum in one direction or another is not an answer or solution.

Anonymous said...

The wait in my office is only 45 minutes, once they check in. The check in line wait is over an hour so while we look like we are helping people in under an hour, it is actually over 2 hours.

Anonymous said...

"And in related news, effect still follows cause."

Anonymous said...

The cause is from the 1940s. Something called the baby boom. People were having too many kids. Now we are paying for it.

The solution: Wait to have kids until you are 24 or 25 years old. Always wear a condom.

The other solution: go to war.

Anonymous said...

The management personnel who were engaged in wrongdoings but perpetually gotten promoted are the direct corrupted reasons why the waiting is always high and will be higher until those bastards got kicked out for the public' sake! Time to drain the swamp!!

Anonymous said...

You hire more ALJS and support staff for NHCs and leave the field offices with a work force that was hired in the rollout of SSI that are retiring in droves. New CRs and SRs are not staying with the agency, 60% of the CRs I trained with for the Medicare Part D hires have left the agency and not a one of them was replaced. The FO and DO have been screaming for help, but ODAR sucks all the air out of the room and we get no front line people. I don't know or even care if ODAR is corrupt and blah blah blah, what I do know and care about is that we need some people in the offices to handle the people.

Anonymous said...

4:02 How is it that people have to wait an hour to check in? That doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

I am not 4:02, but I believe she is referring to the long lines some stand in just waiting to get up to the point where one can actually, "check in." Unfortunately, this has now become a reality at many DO's, and it is not a pretty sight.

Anonymous said...

4:02 is referring to how SSA calculates waiting time. SSA only calculates waiting time for an individual waiting for their "first substantive interview." For instance, a customer takes a ticket and waits 45 minutes to get to the receptionist to change their direct deposit and after the transaction leaves the office - that person's officially recorded waiting time is 45 minutes.

Another example: A person visits the office without an appointment to file a hearing. The person takes a ticket and waits one hour to be screened by the receptionist. The reception posts the visitor for a back-end interview with a representative to file the hearing but waits only 10 minutes to be called into the back for that interview. This person's waiting time is officially recorded as only 10 minutes because they waited 10 minutes for their "first substantive interview" to begin even though they waited longer than the person from the first example.

Anonymous said...

7:14. I don't think that is true. I believe they calculate from the point a person checks in. They may also count the time it take to get the other interview, which would be a shorter time and would bring the true wait time down. Any way, people are waiting longer to be seen and service has suffered greatly over the last 10 years.

Anonymous said...

@ 10:14

FOs and DOs are understaffed and I sympathize as an ODAR person. But too often yall don't appreciate what we are doing here and how much we have to do.

Y'all can make many of your determinations and complete many other actions from cradle to grave in a day or two. POMS puts very little due process type impositions on you to slow you down. Here at ODAR, while admittedly rushed and not 100% how it should be, we are adjudicating claims more like a real court room, and we have to provide much more due process than you do. We simply have to move slower and put in more work for every disposition or other action that we do than you do.

I am troubled by the Operations takeover of ODAR considering this view Operations has of us. Tons of new GSs and HODs are former OSs and ADMs/DMs, and they are keeping their "move the hell out of all these widgets" mentality cultivated so strongly in Operations. Due process and the (already too low) quality of what we do at ODAR will suffer tremendously under this new leadership.

And the fact that our current acting COSSA, who will likely stay in place a long while since Trumpito doesn't seem to think about us at all, is an Operations lifer and was the DC for Operations before assuming the role is going to accelerate the takeover. It's gonna be great!

Anonymous said...

Your explanation is incorrect. Waiting time ends at the end of the first substantive interview. Review agency documents on this including a guide published by the Chicago region.

Anonymous said...

10:15 AM This is 402--at my office the folks wait in a long line, sometimes 40+ people to get to the person that checks them in. They then wait for an SR or CR to help them with whatever business they came to the office to conduct. Previously, they would just pull a ticket and wait and the times started when they pulled the ticket. Now they stand longer in line, with the line frequently going out of the building (occasionally all the way to the parking lot). Part of the problem is the building is only 10 years old and every body was going to be filing online. Folks do file online but replacement social security cards, SSI changes, non receipts, etc are done in person

Anonymous said...

The tax season crush for Social Security Cards is real and heavy, I do not look back on those days fondly. I feel for you 402.

Anonymous said...

The problem is too much management that is not needed. Since so many folks work at home there is no need for so much management. Cut back the management jobs and use the savings to hire support staff and writers.

Anonymous said...

I doubt the current commissioner is going to be able to keep her job for long. She will be replaced.

Anonymous said...

Hiring more ALJ's is not the answer. Just more wasted taxpayer money if you hire more ALJ's. Too many ALJ's don't do the job well and should be canned but no one fires them for reasons unknown.