Mar 31, 2009

Washington Post Attacked On Social Security

I had posted earlier about an article in the Washington Post on the recession and Social Security. I have also mentioned some time ago that the Washington Post has moved significantly to the right in recent years. Take a look at these excerpts from a piece in The American Prospect:

The Washington Post has long been a strong proponent of reducing Social Security benefits. While it frequently expresses this view in editorials and in the opeds it chooses to publish, it also pushes its editorial position in the news section.

In keeping with this practice, it headlined an article today, "Recession Puts a Major Strain On Social Security Trust Fund."...

While those seeking to cut Social Security benefits are highlighting these new projections, in reality they have very little significance for the program. ... The lower projected surpluses for the next few years will have some impact (if the projections prove correct) on the date at which the fund is projected to be depleted, but the projected depletion date will almost certainly be beyond 2040 ...

Recession And Social Security

From the Washington Post:
With unemployment rising, the payroll tax revenue that finances Social Security benefits for nearly 51 million retirees and other recipients is falling, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office. As a result, the trust fund's annual surplus is forecast to all but vanish next year -- nearly a decade ahead of schedule -- and deprive the government of billions of dollars it had been counting on to help balance the nation's books. ...

The new forecast is fueling calls for reform of the Social Security system from conservative analysts, who say it underscores the financial fragility of a system that provides a primary source of income for millions of Americans. ...

Many liberal analysts reject the notion that Social Security needs fixing, arguing that the system is projected to fully support payments to beneficiaries through 2041 -- so long as the Treasury repays its debts. But they agree that the news is not good for the federal budget.

State Furloughs And Social Security -- Bad Situation

From a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
SSA reimburses the DDS [Disability Determination Services, which are agencies of state governments] for 100 percent of allowable expenditures up to its approved funding authorization. The expenditures include both costs directly related to claims processing (such as disability adjudicators’ salaries) and indirect costs. ...

To deal with budget deficits, some States have instituted, or are considering, furloughs for State employees—including staff at the DDSs, which are 100 percent funded by SSA. However, Federal regulations state:

Subject to appropriate Federal funding, the State will, to the best of its ability, facilitate the processing of disability claims by avoiding personnel freezes, restrictions against overtime work, or curtailment of facilities or activities. ...

Additionally, on February 3, 2009, California began delaying payments to individuals who provide consultative examinations and medical records. California also notified SSA that there would be a 30-day delay in payment (which was due to SSA by February 26, 2009) of the estimated amount of its March 2009 federally administered State supplement to SSI recipients. ...

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, SSA spent $1.8 billion funding DDS operations for almost 14,000 DDS employees who processed about 3.6 million disability claims nationwide. ...

However, SSA’s ability to process this workload will be negatively impacted by furloughs. As of March 3, 2009, of the 52 DDSs,

  • 5 were furloughing,
  • 3 were considering furloughs ...

Of the five States furloughing:

  • California is furloughing all DDS staff 2 days each month through June 2010.
  • Connecticut had one voluntary furlough day for managers on February 13, 2009. Since then, the Governor has extended the request for voluntary furloughs to all State employees through June 1, 2009.
  • Maryland is furloughing 2 unpaid holidays for all State employees and additional furlough days for State employees within certain salary ranges through June 2009.
  • Massachusetts is furloughing DDS managers 3 days through June 2009.
  • Oregon is furloughing DDS managers from 1 to 4 days, depending on salary range, through June 2009....
Of the 52 DDSs,
  • 5 had hiring freezes,
  • 1 was considering a hiring freeze ...
The attrition rate for DDS disability examiners was 12.5 percent in FY 2008 and 9.8 percent in FY 2009.
In related news, Commissioner Astrue and Congressman Early Blumenauer have jointly authored an op ed piece on this subject in the Oregonian.

Mar 30, 2009

Dr. Gunnar Andersson

Gunnar B.J. Andersson is one of the members of Social Security's Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel I had written earlier that it appeared that he had no background to prepare him for service on the Panel. That may have been the appearance from the brief biography posted by Social Security, but a couple of people e-mailed me about Dr. Andersson's background. He is the editor of the most recent edition of the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment and the co-author of Disability Evaluation.

However, I still think this Panel's work is likely to be almost entirely new to him. Assigning percentages of disability or saying that someone is limited to "Sedentary Work" is quite different from determining whether there actually are unskilled sedentary jobs remaining in the U.S. economy. My experience is that physicians have trouble with the very idea of non-medical aspects being considered in determining disability.

House Budget Resolution

The Budget Resolution pending in the House of Representatives is finally available. It "assumes" the same budget amount for Social Security's operating budget as proposed by the President, $11.6 billion (page 33).

The Budget Resolution, however, is not the same as the Appropriation Bill. The Budget Resolution merely sets goals. It is a sign of what may be coming, but the Appropriation Bill is the real deal that actually determines how much money Social Security gets to spend.

Social Security Field Offices In Trouble

The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel, has issued its annual survey of its members. Some highlights (emphasis added):
  • Recent funding for SSA [Social Security Administration] has been inadequate to provide for the immediate needs of the public. Only 13.1% of FO/TSC [Field Office/Teleservice Center] managers believed that SSA’s budget is sufficient to provide good public service. ...
  • Present staffing levels at SSA FOs and TSCs are inadequate. Inadequate funding affects SSA at all levels but is most directly felt by the public through service delivery of FOs and TSCs. 77.4% of respondents reported having insufficient staff to keep workloads current. Only 20.1% thought that their offices were adequately staffed. Managers estimated that they would need an additional staffing increase of 13.5% to have enough resources to provide adequate levels of service. Managers specifically attributed the effect of inadequate staffing levels on the ability of their offices to provide public service in several areas:
  • FO Waiting Times – 67.2% of FO managers reported that office waiting times are longer or significantly longer than they were just one year ago. As the most significant reason for long waiting times, 83.1% of FO managers identified issues related to inadequate staffing – high volume of walk-in traffic (56.7%) and insufficient staff (26.4%). ...
  • Employee Training – Less than half of managers agreed or strongly agreed that their staffs receive adequate training (49.1%). ...
  • Quality of Work Product – While only 22.5% of managers said that the quality of work produced in their office had improved in the last two years; nearly one-third of managers (33.6%) reported that the quality of work produced in their offices was worse or significantly worse. ...
  • Electronic services (eServices) is a beneficial service delivery option but has not had a significant effect on reducing FO/TSC involvement with claimants who use eServices. 58.4% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that recent SSA policy changes to facilitate eServices have improved public service. However, it is not having a significant effect on reducing public demand for services from FOs/TSCs. Only 33.6% of managers believed that it has helped to reduce public demand for services from their office while 54.5% reported that eServices has had either no effect on demand for services or has actually increased demand.
Commissioner Astrue has not addressed these problems in any meaningful way.

Mar 29, 2009

Backgrounds For Members Of Occupational Panel

Here is a brief summary of the backgrounds of the individuals selected to be on Social Security's Occupational Information Development Advisory Panel:
  • Gunnar B. J. Andersson, M.D., Ph.D. -- Orthopedic surgeon; No apparent relevant background
  • Mary Barros-Bailey, Ph.D. -- Vocational expert; History of being a consultant for Social Security on vocational matters
  • Robert T. Fraser, Ph.D. -- Rehabilitation counselor
  • Shanan Gwaltney Gibson, Ph.D. -- Assistant professor of Management at East Carolina University with background in occupational analysis; Consultant to State Farm Insurance
  • Thomas A. Hardy, J.D. -- Attorney in private practice concentrating his work in Social Security and Long Term Disability Appeals; previously a Vocational Disability Counselor; Worked in past as manager of vocational rehabilitation services for major long term disability insurance carrier and has served as representative of the private insurance industry to Social Security.
  • Sylvia E. Karman -- Director for Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) Occupational Information Development Project
  • Deborah E. Lechner -- developer and marketer of Functional Capacity Evaluation instrument
  • Lynnae M. Ruttledge -- "A person born with a disability"; Director of the Washington Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
  • David J. Schretlen, Ph.D. -- Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, as well as an Associate Professor of Radiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is board-certified in clinical neuropsychology. He currently is analyzing predictors of functional disability in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • Nancy G. Shor -- Executive Director, National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR)
  • Mark A. Wilson, Ph.D. -- Associate Professor of Psychology, NC State University; Involved in human-resource planning, job analysis, selection (managerial assessment centers), performance appraisal, and compensation for a market-leading insurance company
  • James F. Woods -- Led development of the O*NET system

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

I don't know whether to post this or just avert my eyes from someone making making a fuss about something he does not understand. From a press release issued by Senator Grassley (R-Iowa):
Senator Chuck Grassley said his survey of private insurers has found that some are needlessly contributing to the Social Security disability backlog, and he urged the Social Security Administration to recommit itself to preventing disability benefit application fraud and to work with the Inspector General to penalize and prosecute those filing false disability claims. ...

Grassley’s said his conclusions about the way private plans are burdening the public program are based on his review of responses from nine major insurance companies to an inquiry he made late last year about private insurers’ policies and practices concerning disability insurance claims.

Every insurer surveyed by Grassley said it “encouraged, requested, required, expected, asked or suggested” that long-term disability claimants apply for Social Security disability payments once a claim is approved. One private insurer requires that individuals apply. All nine of the insurers’ policies reduce claimants’ disability benefits by the assumed amount of Social Security disability insurance benefits unless it granted an exception. Four private insurers provided information to Grassley about approval rates for Social Security disability claims. Of those four, three had approval rates generally below all disability claims processed by the Social Security Administration.
My experience is that the Social Security disability claims of Long Term Disability (LTD) recipients have very good prospects of success. on Social Security disability claims. Why shouldn't LTD carriers encourage their beneficiaries to apply for Social Security disability benefits? The LTD carriers have more at stake than the claimant. Almost all of these claimants will eventually apply anyway. The sooner, the better for them, since they have a stake in the Social Security disability claim also, because of the Cost of Living Adjustment that applies to Social Security disability benefits but not LTD -- and for other reasons not worth detailing here. I have no idea where Grassley is getting his information about LTD recipients having a lower chance of success. I am nearly certain that he misunderstood something.

It is easy to think that there is something scandalous about the offset in LTD plans for Social Security disability benefits. However, without that offset, the costs of LTD would be far too high and no one would have LTD. Far better to have LTD with an offset for Social Security disability benefits than no LTD at all. Most people just misunderstand what LTD is about, probably because the insurance companies do not go out of their way to explain it. Mostly, LTD insures against the delays and uncertainties in the Social Security disability programs. When you think about it that way, things start to make sense. Also, when you think about it that way, you start to wonder whether the real problem is with the delays and uncertainties at Social Security.

Remember, I do not even like the LTD carriers. They jerk too many of my clients around, not by making them apply for Social Security disability benefits, but by cutting off their LTD benefits inappropriately. I only defend the LTD carriers on this issue because it is a bum rap and a distraction from the real problem at Social Security, which is primarily a lack of staff.

Mar 28, 2009

Mom On Ice

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
An upstate New York man has been accused of stashing his 98-year-old mother's dead body in a freezer in their home so he could keep cashing her Social Security checks.

State police say they discovered Herta Auslander's body in a freezer chest in October after receiving a tip she had died more than a year earlier. An autopsy concluded she died of natural causes.

Mar 27, 2009

Astrue On Obama's Body Language And Social Security Solvency

I missed this piece from March 9 in the St. Louis Beacon (emphasis added):
Are you concerned that Social Security will go broke before you reach retirement age?

Michael Astrue, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, certainly isn't.

Not only that, but Astrue (right) -- who was appointed to the post by President George W. Bush -- believes the issue of insolvency will be addressed before the end of President Barack Obama's first term in office. ...

Astrue said the Obama administration has shown strong interest in tackling the issue of solvency, but he doesn't expect movement until the current debate over health care reform is resolved. ...

In one of his more unusual observations, Astrue said that he sees evidence of Obama's commitment in his body language.

"He has a hand gesture that he makes when he talks about Social Security being a solvable issue," Astrue said. ...

"It is an extraordinary time. ... There are huge amounts of money going out with very little consideration and thought for oversight, and things are being cobbled together after the fact. But, generally, there is an attitude of trying to get some things done in a new and different way."

2008 Annual Statistical Supplement Released

Social Security has released its Annual Statistical Supplement for 2008. This contains every imaginable statistic on Social Security other than basic data on operations at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, which for some perverse reason is never presented. Here is one table of interest:

Number of work years, fiscal years 1995–2007
Year Full-time
permanent staff
work years
1995 62,504 67,063
1996 62,133 66,726
1997 61,224 69,378
1998 59,943 67,210
1999 59,752 66,459

2000 60,434 65,521
2001 61,490 65,562
2002 61,914 65,742
2003 63,569 65,343
2004 63,186 66,154 c

2005 63,696 68,026 d
2006 61,692 66,878
2007 60,206 63,939

Claimants Getting Shortchanged?

I just noticed this in Social Security's Program Operations Manual Series (POMS) §SI 00206,200.A.1 (emphasis added):
It is longstanding SSI policy to deduct the expenses of obtaining income from that income before counting it in the SSI eligibility and payment computations. See SI 00830.100. In all title II and title XVI offset cases these expenses include any attorney or nonattorney representative fees that apply to the title II benefits, even if part of the fee is determined based on title XVI past-due benefits. These expenses may also include out-of-pocket expenses that are not part of the fee but are paid by or billed to the claimant.
I know how to notify Social Security of the out of pocket expenses paid by my clients under the fee petition process, but how am I supposed to notify them of the costs under the fee agreement process, which is used about 98% of the time? It looks to me as if Social Security never developed a process for this and that claimants are getting shortchanged as a result. I cannot be the first person to notice this. What is the history on this?

Spend The Money On Computers And Combatting Fraud

Take a look at the opening statement given by the Ranking Republican member of the Social Security Subcommittee, Sam Johnson, at the hearing this week. I will paraphrase: I give lip service to customer service at Social Security, but what is really important to me is making sure that any extra operating funds given to the Social Security Administration be spent on contractors and on combatting fraud, which I am sure is rampant at Social Security.

Mar 26, 2009

Not Soon Enough

From the WSPA "Problem Solver:"
Debbie Satterfield turns the pages of her daughter Jennifer’s life… a 32-year-old who’s life was cut short earlier this month after battling cervical cancer.

We introduced you to Jennifer [Satterfield] last year…her mother by her side as she fought for years to get disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. At the time, SSA said the “condition(s) is not severe enough to be considered disabling.“ ...

With our help that battle ended. ...

Now, more than seven months later SSA has only sent a portion of that money.

“It’s not fair,“ said Debbie. “Why should people die waiting for money that’s due them?“

During a phone interview from Atlanta, SSA’s Patti Patterson told us because Jennifer was receiving two types of benefits…disability (SSDI) and supplemental security income (SSI) law SSA had up to a year and a half to send her back pay for part of her benefits....

Debbie says the wait simply isn’t fair…especially since her daughter waited years to get approved.

“It angers me a lot because now she is dead and she can’t enjoy that money that was due her,“ said Debbie.

Update: It appears that Social Security made a mistake here. The statute says that SSI back benefits are not supposed to be paid in installments if the claimant is expected to die within less than twelve months. (Of course, the Social Security field office may not have realized that she was terminal.) Unfortunately, since the claimant is dead, there is nothing to do about this. However, a very smart reader also pointed out that it looks like something can still be done to get these children more of those back benefits. The windfall offset was computed based upon SSI back benefits being paid. Most of those SSI back benefits were never paid due to this woman's death. The windfall offset should be recomputed and more money paid.

Biden And Astrue Press Release

A press release from Social Security:

Vice President Joe Biden and Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced today that the federal government will send out $250 economic recovery payments to people who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits beginning in early May 2009 and continuing throughout the month. No action is required to get the payment, which will be sent separately from the person’s regular monthly payment.

"The Social Security Administration and Commissioner Astrue have been working closely with other federal agencies to get these payments out the door in record time and into the hands of folks who need it most," said Vice President Biden. "These are checks that will make a big difference in the lives of older Americans and people with disabilities - many of whom have been hit especially hard by the economic crisis that has swept across the country."

“We have been working diligently to issue the $250 one-time recovery payments as soon as possible,” Commissioner Astrue said. “The legislation requires extensive coordination with other federal agencies and I’m pleased we are on track to issue these recovery payments earlier than the statute requires. Soon more than $13 billion will be in the hands of more than 50 million Americans.”

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides for a one-time payment of $250 to adult Social Security beneficiaries, and to SSI recipients, except those receiving Medicaid in care facilities. To receive the payment the individual must be eligible for Social Security or SSI during the months of November 2008, December 2008 or January 2009.

The legislation also provides for a one-time payment to Veterans Affairs (VA) and Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) beneficiaries. The VA and RRB will be responsible for paying individuals under their respective programs. However, if someone receives Social Security and SSI, VA or RRB benefits, he or she will receive only one $250 payment. People getting Social Security or SSI should not contact the agency unless a payment is not received by June 4, 2009.

Dick Cheney's Influence Waning

From a March 19, 2009 Memorandum to all agency heads from Attorney General Eric Holder:
First, an agency should not withhold information [under the Freedom Of Information Act -- FOIA] simply because it may do so legally. I strongly encourage agencies to make discretionary disclosures of information. An agency should not withhold records merely because it can demonstrate, as a technical matter, that the records fall within the scope of a FOIA exemption. ...

[A]s the President stated in his memorandum, "The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears." ...

[A]gencies should readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request. Providing more information online reduces the need for individualized requests and may help reduce existing backlogs [of FOIA requests].
Social Security may finally act upon my Freedom Of Information Act request for all the recent Emergency Messages that the agency has been trying to keep secret and, better yet, stop keeping Emergency Messages secret for trivial reasons, such as embarrassment. Emergency Messages are the main way that the Social Security Administration transmits information about policy changes to its employees. Most Emergency Messages issued in recent years have been labeled "Sensitive" and withheld from the public. This is inconsistent to the policy described by the Attorney General.

Electronics Records Exchange Extends To Virginia

From an IBM press release:
IBM (NYSE: IBM), MedVirginia and the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) today announced a first-of-a-kind electronic records exchange system to help speed the process of granting disability benefits for millions of Americans. ...

The project, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) Cooperative, began just 14 months ago and represents the first health information exchange between a regional health information organization and a U.S. federal agency.

Refighting The New Deal

From a press release issued by Representative John Linder (R-GA), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee:

There is no question that this backlog is one we must work to fix. That said, in the long run, the more important concern, and what this hearing is really about, is the plummeting credibility of those who think that the Federal government can solve the problems of ordinary Americans. Too many of my Democrat colleagues think that anything that is wrong can be fixed by big government programs like SSDI and SSI. We are here today talking about why they are failing, but instead of learning a lesson about the failure of government-run welfare, the Majority party on this Committee will continue to push for big government programs; and they will fail.

You underfund an agency until it breaks down and is unable to adequately fulfill its mission. Then you use the agency's breakdown as justification for eliminating the agency. Makes sense if you really, really hate Social Security.

Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, has also issued a press release that talks about his participation in yesterday's hearing. The press release talks solely about fraud in the Social Security disability programs. He expresses no concern about poor service and huge backlogs at Social Security.

Mar 25, 2009

Congress Frustrated

From The Oregonian:
Despite an infusion of $148 million and attention at the highest levels, the Social Security Administration has made little progress reducing an enormous backlog of disability claims for the nation's sickest and most vulnerable people, a House subcommittee heard Tuesday. ...

The backlog has been reduced in some areas but has increased in others. ...

None of this sat well with lawmakers.

"Time after time we learn of severely ill individuals who face dire, even tragic circumstances while they endure lengthy waits, often extending three years or more, to receive desperately needed benefits," said Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., the subcommittee chairman. ...

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, said Congress is unhappy.

"The frustration is, we give them the money, why can't they fix it?"

Walkaways At Field Offices

From the statement of Rick Warsinskey, District Office Manager, Cleveland, Ohio; and Immediate Past President, National Council of Social Security Management Associations, Inc. to the House Ways and Means Committee:

SSA Field Offices are also seeing a significant increase in the number of people who leave without receiving service. In fact, this calendar year to date we are averaging nearly 80,000 people a week, or 8.4%, that leave our offices without receiving service. Many Field Offices have a much higher percentage. Examples of these Field Offices are:

  • Memphis South, TN: 10.5%
  • Seattle Downtown, WA: 12.8%
  • Charleston, SC: 14.0%
  • Mobile, AL: 14.1%
  • Houston Northeast, TX: 14.8%
  • Chicago East, IL: 15.2%
  • Austin, Texas: 16.0%
  • Norfolk, VA: 16.8%
  • Oakland, CA: 19.8%
  • Brooklyn Flatbush, NY: 20.1%
  • Clearwater, FL: 21.7%
  • Baltimore NE, MD: 27.0%
  • North Las Vegas, NV: 33.7%

I have not heard anything from Commissioner Astrue that begins to respond to the problems that Social Security field offices have in handling their foot traffic -- and their problems handling telephone calls are much worse. Certainly, more than half of all telephone calls to Social Security field offices go unanswered. No one knows how much more than half. It may be 80% or more. I cannot believe that anyone familiar with Social Security field offices could think that the internet is going to solve this problem, but I do not know what other plan Commissioner Astrue has.

Mar 24, 2009

Furloughs And Social Security Disability

The testimony of Social Security's Inspector General to the House Ways and Means Committee includes the sobering news that five states have furloughed their employees who perform disability determination work for the Social Security Administration. Those five states comprise 15% of the national workload. Here is the list of states affected:
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Oregon
This is happening even though these furloughs do nothing to help state budget shortfalls. 100% of the costs of these employees are paid by Social Security. It appears that state governments are mostly interested in the appearance of fairness to all of their employees. The furloughs actually worsen the economies of the states involved by reducing the paychecks of state employees unnecessarily and delaying payment of disability benefits.

This must be addressed by legislation. States should not be allowed to take money under ARRA and do this.

New Hearing Office Sites

Commissioner Astrue's statement to the House Ways and Means Committee includes a map showing new hearing office sites for Social Security. The map only became visible to me when I viewed it here. I tried to reproduce it here, but it doesn't scale properly. Here is a list of the locations:
  • Akron, OH
  • Atlanta South, GA
  • Fayetteville, NC
  • Livonia, MI
  • Madison, WI
  • Mt. Pleasant, MI
  • St. Petersburg, FL
  • Toledo, OH
  • Topeka, KS
  • Tallahasee, FL

What Are Michael Astrue's Priorities?

I did not have a chance to watch the Social Security Subcommittee hearing today. I have started reading the prepared statements.

Commissioner Astrue's statement surprises me.

There is widespread agreement that the Social Security Administration is not going to improve upon the dismal service it is giving the public without increasing its workforce significantly. Social Security has been given far greater appropriations for the current fiscal year than in the prior years. Large appropriations are also likely for the foreseeable future. Congress expects better service and soon. Questions have been raised about how much hiring Social Security will do. In reviewing Commissioner Astrue's lengthy written statement to the Committee, I looked hard for all the references to hiring plans. Here they are (emphasis in original):
We have already hired 140 new support staff in our hearing offices so far this year, and expect to hire over 700 additional support staff. ...

Our current estimate is that we will need 1,400 to 1,450 ALJs to achieve our goals, and we are expanding our physical infrastructure, to the extent we can, so that we can reach that level. ...

In FY 2009, we expect to add a total of 135 new staff at the Appeals Council, while replacing losses due to attrition. ...

Our full year appropriation, which supplies $126.5 million more than was included in President’s FY 2009 budget, as well as the additional funding in the ARRA, will allow us to invest in information technology, to hire 5,000 to 6,000 new employees before the end of the year, and to allot additional overtime to process critical workloads. In addition to replacing all of our losses in FY 2009, we will assign new employees to our front-line operations where they will have the greatest impact – approximately 1,200 employees to our field offices, 900 employees to our hearings offices, and 600 employees to State DDSs.
I am struck by how little of Astrue's statement dealt with hiring. I get the impression that hiring is not all that important to Michael Astrue. Management plans seem a lot more important to him. I also get the impression that when Commissioner Astrue talks of hiring 5,000 to 6,000 new employees he is talking about hires to replace employees who are leaving as well as hires to add to Social Security's workforce and that he is talking about state Disability Determination Services as well as the Social Security Administration itself. Social Security needs to hire several thousand people each year just to replace employees who are departing. I think it would be best that Commissioner Astrue not use that figure of 5,000 to 6,000 new employees again without making it clear what he means. As a Republican holdover in a Democratic Administration he needs to be careful not to say anything that could be interpreted as misleading.

Astrue's hiring plans seem puny to me. I have to wonder where all the additional money is going if Social Security will not be adding that many new employees. I also wonder what kind of appropriations it would take to induce Social Security to go on a real hiring binge, which is what I think is clearly indicated.

Occupational Information Development Advisory Committee Members Names Revealed

The Social Security Administration has finally revealed the names of the member of its Occupational Information Development Advisory Committee:

This Committee is tasked with coming up with an alternative to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). Sound really boring? Hundreds of thousands of Social Security disability claimants are now being approved or denied based upon the DOT, even though everyone realizes that the DOT is preposterously out of date. Many of those decisions could go in a different direction depending upon what Social Security does about the DOT.

Judging by the biographical statements of the Committee members, consensus may be hard to come by for this Committee. I do not understand why some of these people are on this Committee. A person who makes her career in developing and marketing Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) instruments? A person who tries to measure the disability caused by mental illness? Sounds like people who could easily sidetrack the Committee. I wish that the vast majority of these folks had some background in work evaluation and Social Security disability. My guess is that some of the Committee members are going to find their service to be extremely boring and may never understand the agendas that some others bring to this Committee.

Watch House Ways And Means Committee Hearing

Today's House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Social Security is scheduled to start at 10:30 and should be available in streaming video.

Disability Waiting Period Draws Attention

From in San Diego:
Several weeks ago, Scripps Ranch resident Phoebe Carroll lost her husband of 25 years to esophageal cancer.Although it is the law and a rule, Carroll said it made no sense that her husband could not get money he was owed from Social Security when it was needed the most. ...

When doctors told Lane Carroll there wasn't any hope, he applied to Social Security for a Compassionate Allowance Disability benefit and was approved.

"After you're approved, you're not really approved; you have to see if you can live long enough to collect it," said Phoebe Carroll.

Under the law, benefits cannot be paid until you've been disabled for five consecutive months.Lane Carroll's disease was much faster, and the Carrolls did not receive a dime at a time when Phoebe was off work so she could care for her husband. ...

To honor his memory, Phoebe wants the law changed or at least the ability for an appeal so others won't find themselves in the situation she was in.

Class Action Lawsuit On Disabled Employees

A Baltimore law firm is making progress with a class action against Social Security concerning the rights of disabled Social Security employees. This is from the firm's newsletter:
More than 2,000 federal employees with targeted disabilities are part of a class action against the Social Security Administration because they were not promoted despite their status on best qualified lists.

Targeted disabilities include blindness, partial or complete paralysis, convulsive disorders, deafness, mental retardation, mental illness, and distortion of the limb or spine. EEOC AJ David Norken certified the class action last month in Jantz v. Social Security Administration, EEOC No. 531-2006-00276x (EEOC AJ 10/08/08). He considered data that indicates SSA employees with targeted disabilities are selected for promotion at a rate of 7.7 percent, while the rate for workers without targeted disabilities is 11.7 percent.
This is only one of several signs of pressure on Social Security to adopt more open hiring practices. Most of the pressure has nothing to do with alleged discrimination. It has to do with excessive secrecy. As an employer myself, I cannot comprehend why Social Security would want to keep job openings secret.

Mar 23, 2009

Witness List For House Ways And Means Committee Hearing

The witness list for tomorrow's House Ways and Means Committee hearing has been released:


The Honorable Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner, Social Security Administration

The Honorable Patrick O’Carroll, Inspector General, Social Security Administration
Dan Bertoni, Director of Disability Issues for the Education, Workforce & Income Security Team, U.S. Government Accountability Office
Peggy Hathaway, Vice President, United Spinal Association, Silver Spring, Maryland; on behalf of Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force
The Honorable Ron Bernoski, Administrative Law Judge, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and President, Association of Administrative Law Judges
James Fell, Hearing Office Director, Social Security Administration Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Cincinnati, Ohio; and Immediate Past President of the Federal Managers Association Chapter 275
Rick Warsinskey, District Office Manager, Cleveland, Ohio; and Immediate Past President, National Council of Social Security Management Associations, Inc.

How Many Employees Will Social Security Hire And How Will They Be Hired?

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has fired another shot in its ongoing battle with Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. Here are a few excerpts from a letter sent by Witold Skwierczynski, the head of the AFGE for Social Security, to Commissioner Astrue, sent just in time for tomorrow's House Ways and Means Committee hearing:

... [T]he Union has learned that you intend to fill the following vacancies:

  • 157 ALJs

  • 600-700 ODAR

  • 175 PSC

  • 125 TSC

  • 1450 Field – DCO

  • 1000 DDS

If these figures are accurate, rather than hiring 5000-6000 employees in SSA as you stated in your 2/17/09 Commissioner broadcast, the Agency is only hiring about 2600 SSA workers and 1000 DDS workers. The field which is about 58% of the SSA workforce will only receive about 25% of the new employees that you stated in your 2/17/09 broadcast that SSA would hire in 2009. ...

It is also evident that managers in the field have been instructed to use discredited non competitive hiring authorities such as the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) to fill SSA vacancies. Managers are informing employees that they are seeking new hires at colleges and using other non-competitive sources. Jobs are not being posted on the USA jobs network for competitive hires. ...

SSA’s own statistics indicate that in FY 08 62% of hires in SSA were done under FCIP. Only 4.68% of these hires were veterans. Only 26% of hires in SSA in FY 08 were done under competitive procedures. ...

AFGE has also received a number of reports from employees complaining that managers have used FCIP to hire their relatives, friends, neighbors, fellow church members, etc. Examples are the FCIP hire of Ryan Kulinski, son of Milwaukee DT District Manager Mark Kulinski or the FCIP hiring of Mark Fansler, nephew of Seattle Area Director Steve Dymale. Both Kulinski and Fansler were not only FCIP hires but they were quickly selected at the first opportunity to higher graded positions instead of highly qualified veteran employees who were not related to management. ... If the Agency persists in using FCIP as a hiring mechanism AFGE will seriously consider filing a law suit to force the Agency to terminate this hiring mechanism which was not ever designed for the routine hiring that SSA is using with stimulus revenue.

Contractors Under Scrutiny

FedBlog is reporting that there are signs that federal contracting will come under increased scrutiny. At least at the Pentagon, using contractors instead of employees has increased costs dramatically.

I imagine that the major private sector contractor that might come under review at Social Security is Lockheed Martin which has a huge contract to do document scanning. I have no idea how the amounts paid Lockheed Martin compare to what it would cost to do the same job with federal employees. The problem is that Social Security management probably does not know either. The contract was almost certainly granted without ever considering federal employees as an alternative. That was out of the question in the Bush Administration.

Mar 22, 2009

Q And A On Economic Stimulus Payments

The Social Security Administration has finally put out a fairly comprehensive list of questions and answers on the $250 economic stimulus payments to recipients of Social Security benefits. One point of mild interest is that Social Security overpayments may not be collected out of the economic stimulus payments, but other federal debts and child support payments may be.

Mar 21, 2009

I'm Not Buying This, But ...

From a Talk of the Town piece by Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker:
... [L]urking underneath the anti-spending, pro-tax-cutting cant [of Republicans] is one idea that might truly have merit. ...

“If you want a quick answer to the question what would I do [about the recession], ” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said recently, “I’d have a payroll-tax holiday for a year or two. That would put taxes in the hands of everybody who has a job, whether they pay income taxes or not.” ...

The payroll tax now provides a third of federal revenues. And, because it nominally funds Social Security and Medicare, some liberals regard its continuance as essential to the survival of those programs. That’s almost certainly wrong. Public pensions and medical care for the aged have become fixed, integral parts of American life. Their political support no longer depends on analogizing them to private insurance. Besides, the aging of the population, the collapse of defined-benefit private pensions, the volatility of 401(k)s, and pricey advances in medical technology mean that, no matter what efficiencies may be achieved, Social Security and Medicare will—and should—grow. Holding them hostage to ever-rising, job-killing payroll taxes is perverse.If the economic crisis necessitates a second stimulus—and it probably will—then a payroll-tax holiday deserves a look. But it’s only half a good idea. A whole good idea would be to make a payroll-tax holiday the first step in an orderly transition to scrapping the payroll tax altogether and replacing the lost revenue with a package of levies on things that, unlike jobs, we want less rather than more of—things like pollution, carbon emissions, oil imports, inefficient use of energy and natural resources, and excessive consumption. The net tax burden on the economy would be unchanged, but the shift in relative price signals would nudge investment from resource-intensive enterprises toward labor-intensive ones. This wouldn’t be just a tax adjustment. It would be an environmental program, an anti-global-warming program, a youth-employment (and anti-crime) program, and an energy program.

Mar 20, 2009

Astrue Speaks At NADR Conference

Commissioner Astrue spoke at the convention of the National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR) yesterday. I am told that he announced:
  • The fees paid to Vocational Experts for testifying at Social Security hearings will rise by 10%.
  • Fees paid to Medical Expert witnesses for their testimony are under review.
  • The current process by which those who represent Social Security claimants notify the agency of their identifying information using form 1695 will be phased out. Apparently, Astrue did not discuss what will replace it.
  • Astrue expects that sometime next year Social Security will adopt regulations which will recognize entities as representatives of claimants.
  • New hearing offices will open this year. A new office for Fayetteville, NC is to be in the second round of office openings, but is still likely to open this year.

Mar 19, 2009

OIG Criticism For Barnhart

From a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General(emphasis added):
SSA contracted with Abt to develop the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND) project to test alternate methods of treating work activity in the Title II disability program. The contract states that after the design is completed, subsequent phases of this demonstration are to be awarded to the same contractor on a sole-source basis for the project's implementation, data collection, and evaluation and management. This award will be contingent upon successful performance of the design phase. A $2.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract was awarded to Abt with a period of performance from September 2004 to September 2006. Because of contract modifications and additional task orders, the contract was extended to September 2008 at a total cost of approximately $10.6 million. ...

We found that Abt generally adhered to the terms of the contract and delivered the services and final design options that SSA asked for under the contract. However, we have several concerns about the delays and costs associated with the design phase. While SSA is required by law to continue with the demonstration project, we are concerned that the multiple modifications extended the contract period from 2 to 4 years, and the design phase costs increased to $10.6 million, or $8.2 million more than initially expected. We believe approximately $5.3 million, or half of the total costs, could have been put to better use had the contract been better focused and completed within the initial timeframe. ...

Prior SSA management [when Jo Anne Barnhart was Commissioner of Social Security] demonstrated inadequate oversight of the contract's planning, scope and expenditures. ... For instance, while the Office of Management and Budget requires enhanced controls over cost-reimbursement contracts, in our review of invoices, we were unable to determine whether the contractor over- or under-billed for a specific task due. Furthermore, the contract was not monitored in a way that allowed for quickly detecting or avoiding cost overruns for tasks. Moreover, we found that SSA did not perform timely interim contractor performance evaluations, as required by the contract and recommended by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
This is the sort of report that the current Inspector General just did not do while George W. Bush was President. He seemed to regard criticism of contractors or high Social Security officials as out of bounds. Now he is only criticizing what happened when Social Security had a different Commissioner. When George W. Bush was President, the Inspector General reports seemed to focus on overpayments to claimants with the strong implication that any overpayment was the result of fraud. Overpayments are a valid area of inquiry for the Inspector General, but in an agency the size of Social Security there are bound to be blunders made in contracting and those blunders are also a valid area of inquiry. When it comes to overpayments, few of them are due to out and out fraud. Much of the time Social Security itself is at least partly to blame for the overpayment.

Mar 18, 2009

Results Of Last Week's Unscientific Poll

Some unions have called for Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue to resign. Would you be pleased if Astrue were to resign?

Yes (92) 47%
No (102) 53%

Total Votes: 194

Congressional Hearing Set For March 24

From the House Ways and Means Committee:
Congressman John S. Tanner (D-TN), Chairman, Subcommittee on Social Security, and Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), Chairman, Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, today announced a joint hearing on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) large backlog in disability claims and other service delivery declines, including backlogs in program integrity activities. The hearing will take place on Tuesday, March 24, 2009 in the main Committee hearing room, 1100 Longworth House Office Building, beginning at 10:00 a.m. ...

In recent years, SSA’s backlog of claims for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits has reached unprecedented levels, with more than 1.3 million Americans currently awaiting a decision on their case. The problem is particularly severe at the hearings level, where the backlog has more than doubled since 2000 – from about 310,000 to more than 765,000 – and the average waiting time is now almost 500 days.

These backlogs have resulted from years of underfunding as SSA’s workload increased due to the aging of the population and additional responsibilities given to the agency. Resource shortages have also led to service delivery declines in other areas. SSA has significantly cut back on program integrity activities such as continuing disability reviews and SSI redeterminations, even though these activities have been demonstrated to generate considerable savings, as much as $10 in program costs for every $1 in administrative expenditures. In addition, service to the public has declined in SSA’s field offices, as noted in a January 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the backlog problem is of such severity that GAO included it in its biennial “high risk” list of federal programs.

In the past two years, Congress has provided additional funding to begin to address these problems, and SSA has begun to implement a plan to eliminate the hearings level backlog by 2013. However, the agency continues to face new challenges. Disability and retirement claims are increasing due to the economic downturn in combination with demographic changes. From FY 2008 to FY 2009, initial disability claims are projected to increase by more than 12 percent and retirement claims by more than 8 percent, and both are expected to increase even further in FY 2010 and FY 2011.

Finally, two provisions designed to increase access to professional representation for disability claimants are scheduled to expire during the 111th Congress; and legislative proposals have been offered relating to the disability determination process, such as changing how claimants give consent to release medical records.

Mar 17, 2009

Union Attacks Career Intern Program At Social Security

I have posted about the fact that many, perhaps most, job openings at Social Security are not being posted on USA Jobs. Here is some background from Alyssa Rosenberg at Government Executive on a major reason why that is:

The National Treasury Employees Union is continuing its long-standing battle against the Federal Career Intern Program by supporting a veteran who claims the program cost him a job with the Social Security Administration.

The union has filed an amicus brief in the Merit Systems Protection Board case Alvern C. Weed v. Social Security Administration, arguing once again that FCIP illegally undermined veterans preference laws. The union claimed SSA improperly denied Weed, a disabled veteran, a chance to apply for claims and service representative positions by turning to FCIP during a second round of hiring.

"The FCIP was designed as a special-focus hiring authority to provide structured, two-year developmental internships," NTEU President Colleen Kelley stated. "Instead, we now find agencies using it as the principal, and in some cases only, means of hiring." ...

At issue in Alvern C. Weed v. Social Security Administration was SSA's failure to post a vacancy announcement during its second round of hiring. Weed had applied for the job during the first round by responding to an advertisement on the federal recruiting site, and was added to a list of candidates who had preference because of their veteran status. But the supervisor in charge of filling the position ignored that list and instead selected two candidates who responded to a newspaper advertisement.

Can someone explain to me why Social Security wants to avoid making job openings as widely known as possible? I may be naive but spreading the net as wide as possible sounds like a good idea to me. It also seems like the right thing to do even if there might be some inconveniences to it.

At least the federal Office of Personnel Management has decided to protect vets with service connected disabilities.

Update: The Senior Deputy General Counsel of the National Treasury Employees Union has just been hired as the General Counsel of the Office of Personnel Management. That might lead to a change in OPM's position on the litigation.

Congressional Hearing Next Week

The Orange County Leader reports that Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) recently met with Social Security's Inspector General in advance of a Congressional hearing next week. The article says that the hearing concerns fraud in the Social Security disability programs. Brady is a member of the Social Security Subcommittee. The Subcommittee website does not yet list the date or time of that hearing.

It might be noted that the Subcommittee Chair is John Tanner of Tennessee, a prominent Blue Dog Democrat. However, even though I regard Social Security's backlogs as the biggest problem, the agency's lack of adequate staffing also leads to overpayments and these overpayments are not a minor matter. I wish that the term "fraud" would not be tossed about lightly. Certainly, there is some fraud at Social Security, but most overpayments are not the result of fraud. Many are the result of mistakes made by the Social Security Administration itself.

Mar 16, 2009

No Negative COLA

From the Wall Street Journal:
This year, we are likely to experience very low inflation or deflation, which got me wondering how Social Security benefits are adjusted in such an environment. ...

If there is deflation, Social Security benefits won't be cut, Mr. [Mark]Lassiter [a spokesperson for Social Security] says.
I am glad to see some definite word on this. I was not expecting a negative adjustment, but the statute is not crystal clear on the point.

Mar 15, 2009

Waiting In Kansas

From the Lawrence Journal World & News:

On the last day of 2008, Debra Shirar opened the mailbox and found a letter she had been waiting more than two years to receive.

It was the notice setting the date for her disability hearing. Almost 900 days after she filed a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance, she would finally get her day in court. She cried the whole way back from the mailbox. ...

More than 11,000 people are waiting for a disability hearing in front of a judge in either Kansas City or Wichita. In 2008, the average time it took to hear an appeal in Kansas City was 719 days, which is just under the two-year mark. In Wichita, it was 516 days. ...

At Lawrence’s Independence Inc. office, which helps hundreds of people navigate the disability system each year, the wait times have gone down, benefit advocate Rob Tabor said.

More cases are being sent back to the state for special review, which results in faster decisions and frees up hearing spots. However, hardship remains. ...

In August 2007, Kansas was ranked as the worst state in the country for the time it took to process disability claims. Since then, improvements have been made, both in the region and nationally.

SSA has decided to open a hearings office in Topeka, which will take about two years. That office will have five judges and support staff.

E-File Weirdness On Escalated Claims

Let me pass along a bizarre little detail about the current state of Social Security's electronic files. After a request for hearing is filed on a Social Security disability claim, changed circumstances in a claimant's life sometimes make it appropriate for the claimant to file an additional claim with Social Security for a different type of disability benefit. When this happens, the new claim is typically "escalated" to the hearing level and disposed of at the same time as the claim upon which the request for hearing was originally filed. I now know that an escalated new claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) changes what had been an electronic file to a paper file. Why? Apparently, some glitch in the software. This may happen with other escalated claims, such as cases where a claimant asks for a hearing on a Disability Insurance Benefits claim and then loses her husband, causing her to file an additional claim for Disabled Widows benefits, but I do not know for sure. Maybe someone more familiar with this problem can tell us.

I hear that Social Security is working on the problem.

Mar 14, 2009

Misleading Emergency Message

Social Security was supposed to begin issuing 1099s this year to attorneys and others who received direct payment of fees for representing Social Security claimants. However, Social Security sent out a "sensitive" Emergency Message to its staff in February saying that because of "unexpected systems limitations" an "executive decision" had been made to delay issuing the 1099s for one year. The Emergency Message was labeled "not to be shared with the public."

I have heard from enough attorneys that I can say that the Emergency Message was inaccurate and misleading. Social Security did send out a large number of 1099s to attorneys this year, but not all of those who should have received a 1099 got one. I did not get one myself, but many of my colleagues in North Carolina did. The 1099s that were sent out were uniformly erroneous, with the dollar figure for fees received being substantially lower than it should have been.

Do I see some red faces at Social Security? Having a little trouble admitting even to staff how badly this was fouled up? Why can't you just put out an accurate press release on this and be done with it? It's not like we were really eager to get those 1099s anyway! At least Social Security did not put down too much income on the 1099s!

Mar 13, 2009

Furloughs In Oregon

From The Oregonian:

Social Security officials say Oregon's proposal to furlough state workers who handle the agency's disability applications will bog down an already slow claims process, harm sick and injured people and provide no savings to Oregonians.

In a letter to Gov. Ted Kulongoski this week, the Social Security Administration's regional commissioner, Donald Schoening, urged the governor to exempt Oregon's 192 Disability Determination Services employees from proposed furloughs. Schoening pointed out that Social Security pays the salaries and overhead -- more than $25 million a year -- for those state workers. ...

The governor acknowledges the Social Security Administration's "valid concerns," said Kulongoski spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor, but the bulk of the furloughs are merely proposed.

Kulongoski proposes to furlough 177 rank-and-file Disability Determination Services employees for 24 days during the next two years, Taylor said. But those cuts, which would take place during the 2009-2011 budget years, are still being negotiated with the Service Employees International Union, which represents them.

"We are at the bargaining table," Taylor said. "This is early in the negotiations, so no decisions have been made."

The state has imposed furloughs on 15 managers in the disability claims program --one to four days, or a voluntary pay cut, from now until June 30.

Trying To Stop The Checks

From WLBT:

Suffering a variety of illnesses, 56 year old Bruce Guy applied and was granted Social Security Disability in 2006. One year later, still considered disabled he went back to work with MDOT full time.

Not the same job he had when he was healthy, but a good desk job. He contacted the Social Security Administration to notify them of his change of status. But the 1500 dollar monthly disability checks kept coming to the tune of 18 thousand dollars extra last year. "I don't want trouble with the IRS I don't want trouble with Social Security."

Bruce Guy told us. "I'd love to take the money but everyone I talked to at the Social Security Administration office says you make too much money for us to be giving you this money." Repeated calls to the Jackson Social Security Administration to stop the disability checks went unheeded. According to Guy, "The bottom line is I want them to quit sending me money do what they say they are going to do." Frustrated and trying to do the right thing, Guy called Three On Your Side for help. He says, "It's putting me in a bad situation. That 18 thousand dollars a year is costing me 2 thousand dollars in taxes. I'm not supposed to be getting that money.

Our attempts to contact the Jackson Social Security office were futile. So we went to attorney Tim Porter to help solve Guy's dilemma. Porter agreed. Working a full time job and making over 51 thousand dollars a year, Guy should not be receiving the disability funds. "It seems like he did everything he thought he needed to do to stop the payments and the Social Security Administration hasn't listened. So my question would be is the government asleep at the wheel? Probably."

This apparent case of waste and government inefficiently is forcing Guy to stash the disability, afraid that the government will allege overpayment and demand all of it back. Plus, he's having to pay taxes on it out of his regular paycheck. Porter told us, "I actually talked to the gentleman Marsha. He said I see a lot of ads for attorneys who will try to get you Social Security, but I don't see many who will try to make it stop." When asked if he thought this was a case of government waste, Guy replied, "Do I think this is a waste of taxpayer money? I think this is keeping somebody else from getting disability that needs it very badly."

Your government at work or is it? Porter's last step suggestion guy needs to march down to the Federal building in downtown Jackson with all of his paperwork in hand and speak to someone directly.

Finding Employment At Social Security

I posted on February 26 expressing surprise that Social Security did not have more job openings listed on the USA Jobs website. Social Security has a few more jobs posted now, but the agency should be in the process of hiring hundreds of people -- and maybe they are.

Since my post of February 26, I have heard from some people who have told me that Social Security is not listing all available positions on USA Jobs. I will not try to describe Social Security's hiring process because I do not begin to understand it, but many, perhaps most, entry level jobs are not being posted. As a taxpayer, I find this surprising.

If you are interested in obtaining employment with the Social Security Administration, I suggest that you polish up your resume and contact the office or offices where you are interested in working to ask them about their hiring plans and the process they will use to do the hiring.

Perhaps those in the know can give some tips on obtaining employment at Social Security.

Mar 12, 2009

Now You Can Say It

The Social Security Administration has released Major Strategic Accomplishments Fiscal Year 2008. It looks like something prepared in anticipation of upcoming Congressional hearings.

Click on the thumbnail on this page to take a look at a page from the document. Aren't those charts striking? Could they have been released a year or two years ago when they might have done more good?

Mar 11, 2009

E-Mail From Commissioner

A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees

Subject: FY 2009 Appropriation

So, lots of great news.

First, President Obama is set to sign the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2009. Accordingly, I am lifting the hiring restrictions that have been in place since the start of the fiscal year.

The appropriations bill provides $126.5 million more than was included in the FY 2009 President’s budget, which already represented a 6 percent increase over FY 2008 funding. Knowing our annual funding allows us to take swift action on many critical initiatives.

In addition to our appropriation, the economic recovery act that the President signed last month provided us with another $500 million to process our increasing disability and retirement workloads and invest in related information technology projects. Unlike our annual appropriation which we must use within a fiscal year, we will be able to use this $500 million over the next eighteen months. The act also gives us $500 million to replace the National Computer Center, which will allow us to take timely action to ensure that our new data center will be built and operational by the time our current center is near the end of its functional life.

The economic recovery act also requires us to make a one-time payment of $250 to Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries. To cover our administrative costs, the law provides us with $90 million to make these payments. We have been busy coordinating with other agencies to ensure that the right beneficiaries receive payments and that we avoid making duplicate payments. We are on track to send payments to beneficiaries over a several-week period in May. We will provide you with more information and updates as they become available.

Finally, on February 26, the President released his budget overview for FY 2010, and it showed the President’s strong support for the work we do. The FY 2010 request for our agency is $11.6 billion, which would be a 10 percent increase over our FY 2009 appropriation.

We have received this level of support from President Obama and the Congress because we have laid out in detail the investments in employees and technology that are necessary to meet the service challenges of the next decade. While we have many pressing needs, it is important that excellence and accountability come before haste. To this end, the Administration has asked all agencies to establish unprecedented controls over the contracting process and to be transparent as to how they spend this money.

A few months back, I wrote to all of our managers asking that they begin laying the groundwork for bringing on new employees. While I am confident that they have followed my earlier advice and begun planning for the upcoming surge in hiring, we need to remember that our goal is to find the best available candidate, and quite often that person is not the fastest or easiest to hire. We have a commitment to create a workforce that reflects all Americans. We must be thoughtful in our outreach and set a high standard – this is the toughest labor market in decades, so we have a wonderful opportunity to continue our practice of hiring extraordinary employees who will be the agency’s foundation in future decades.

I also am asking everyone to remember that we are a leader in hiring persons with disabilities and that we should continue our outstanding record in hiring and promoting these employees. Accordingly, I am asking all agency executives to continue their efforts in reaching out to the Wounded Warrior transitional programs and Ticket to Work beneficiaries who are trying to return to work. I have designated Kristen Medley-Proctor, an SES candidate, to oversee and coordinate our recruitment and hiring efforts during the next four critical months. She can be reached at kristen.medley-proctor[at] We must ensure that we match disabled persons and opportunities on a national basis and that we use our special hiring authority for persons with disabilities where appropriate.

We obviously have many exciting challenges ahead of us. I am confident that we are up to the task, and I will keep you posted on our progress over what promises to be an extraordinary six months.

Michael J. Astrue



Social Security Has A Budget -- Finally

Congressional Quarterly reports that Congress has finally passed and sent to the President a budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, which began on October 1, 2008, over five months ago. Most of the government has been operating on a continuing funding resolution which kept it going at the rate for FY 2008. The bill gives Social Security $10.5 billion. Even after the election, advocacy groups had been hoping for only $10.4 billion! And this is on top of the special appropriation of $500 million for reducing the backlogs included in the economic stimulus package.

Let the hiring begin in earnest.

Mar 10, 2009

Initial And Recon Allowance Rates 2008

Courtesy of the Social Security Forum, published by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), here are the initial and reconsideration allowance rates by state for Social Security disability claims in fiscal year (FY) 2008. Click on each page to see it full size.

By the way, NOSSCR did not publish a hearing backlog report this month.

Mar 9, 2009

New Scam

From KIDK in Idaho Falls, ID:
The Better Business Bureau has had a few calls about this scam. It starts with a letter, supposedly from the government, that says you're going to get a check for one thousand dollars. However, before you get it, you'll need to verify your information and how you want to get that money; whether you want to receive it monthly, quarterly, or so on. But, don't fall for this.

Mar 8, 2009

Post Mortem Apology

From the Charlotte Observer:
In the final months of his life, Darrin Nelson struggled to pay for his Charlotte apartment and groceries as he battled the effects of AIDS.

He had applied for Social Security disability benefits after he became too sick to work, but government assistance never arrived.

Officials ruled him eligible for cash assistance in February, nearly a month after he died.

Now the Social Security Administration is apologizing for not acting sooner and has promised to give the money Nelson deserved to his mother. ...

Federal officials began looking into Nelson's case last month after they were contacted by the newspaper. Three days later, they awarded Nelson benefits, a Social Security spokeswoman said this week.