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.
AFGE Council of SSA Field Operations