May 1, 2014

Visions Of The Future: The Case Of The SST

     I recently posted an e-mail from the President of the union that represents most Social Security employees about the "plan" of a consulting firm envisioning a Social Security Administration without field offices by 2025. Reportedly, the company envisioned an environment in which most people never left their homes except to be entertained. 
     This vision of the future reminded me of the SST. You ask what is the SST? The Super Sonic Transport, of course. The Super Sonic Transport? That would be an airplane that can transport commercial passengers at supersonic speeds, of course. Remember the Concorde? It was an SST. The idea for the SST was that the globe is awfully big, so big that it takes a long time for a commercial aircraft to get from, let's say New York to Los Angeles, much less from New York to London. The time it takes to fly from New York to Tokyo is just ridiculous. It would be so much better if we had aircraft that could take passengers these long distances several times as fast. The vision of the SST emerged in the 1950s. A number of companies started to develop an SST but only one actually produced an SST for commercial use. That was a French-British consortium which produced the Concorde, which first took to the air for scheduled flights in 1976.
     Whatever happened to the Concorde? It turns out that there were a few problems. Planes flying at supersonic speeds create a very loud sonic boom. If you ever hear a sonic boom, you won't forget it. I have. I never heard the Concorde's sonic boom, just the sonic boom from U.S. fighter aircraft. It's literally loud enough to shatter windows. It turned out that no one wanted the Concorde flying over their house. They were banned from flying at supersonic speeds over land. There goes the New York-Los Angeles route and the New York-Tokyo route since so much of that is over land. It also turned out that the Concorde was very, very expensive to build and operate. Concorde fares were sky high, far higher than first class airfare on subsonic planes. The number of people who could afford such expensive airfare was extremely limited. The realization set in over time that there were no technological fixes for the Concorde's problems. The sonic boom can't be engineered away. The cost problem can't be engineered away.
     In the end only two Concorde planes were build. Two. They were gorgeous airplanes but only two were built. The two Concorde aircraft operated for some years but eventually one of them crashed and the other was retired.
     The SST was a wonderful vision. It's a shame that it didn't work but the reasons it wouldn't work were obvious from the beginning. People just ignored the problems because their belief in the vision was so strong.
     The problems with a vision of the Social Security Administration without field offices should be obvious to those who actually have ground level experience with Social Security. The agency doesn't just take retirement claims. It takes disability claims. It takes survivor claims. It takes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims. Even though most of the money paid out by Social Security goes to retirement benefits, most of the work its employees do is on disability, survivor and SSI claims. These claims are messy and complicated. There's no way to remove the messiness or complexity. It's an inherent part of these benefits. While more and more people are computer literate, many of the people that Social Security employees deal with will never be computer literate enough to deal with the Social Security Administration just over the internet. That's because their transactions with Social Security are complicated and many of these people suffer from cognitive problems or mental illness. These problems aren't going away any more than the Concorde's problems would go away.


Anonymous said...

Sorry for the aviation nerdery, but 14 Concordes were built (actually 20 if prototypes are added), not 2. There were, however, only 2 commercial SSTs built, 1 being the Concorde and the other being the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144 (of which 16 were built). You may carry on now. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Great post Charles

Anonymous said...

Charles, I think you may be missing the point. There are now 10 Regional Offices, 6 PCs, about 1,230 FO's, plus many more other brick and mortar SSA sites throughout the country. All of this overhead comes at great cost. To think that this or a similar structure will all be necessary into the future(or is even necessary now) is ridiculous.

You are right in that there will always be some need for face to face services, especially when complex issues are involved. I suspect these needs will be taken care of in multi-purpose governmental service centers, sharing space, staff, and utilizing taxpayer resources more wisely.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I'm honestly looking anything other than Witold that says that says that there would be no field offices. I can see that there would be fewer of them, that many would be consolidated with other government agencies, that video access to live people would be not just possible but used to ensure face to face can still take place. Applying for an SSN requires a personal visit if you don't get one at birth, so obviously there will be offices. But will there be fewer of them, that just makes sense. Especially if society as a group wants to do more online, they will expect to be able to do more online. But someone needs to show us where it says that this is the only service channel.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the solution finding favor would be the one that preserves more top and middle management and reduces located services were someone can talk face-to-face with someone with expertise.

SSA needs a flatter structure with more people where the citizens are, whether it be standalone offices or co-located with multiple agencies.

Self-help kiosks could be beneficial allowing people to get started then seek direct human interaction help if things get complicated.

Anonymous said...

NAPA is not a consulting firm.

Anonymous said...

If we reduce the resources we use on the "easy" claims, we can free up resources to better handle the difficult claims.

I agree that some claimants are not computer literate and need extra help. However, these claimant might go to a local city, state or federal office building and have someone connect them by video link to a social security employee who can help them with their specific problem. This might actually result in the claimant getting better service than visiting a local field office and taking a number.

Frankly, on the disability side, claimant reps are shouldering a larger part of the burden. In our office, we assist claimants with filing their Title II applications and disability reports and, of course, we are required to file all disability appeals online. I expect that the SSI applications will eventually be done online.

Change is difficult but this change can be managed. Just because we have had a network of local field offices for many years does not mean we need that now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last comment about disability reps.

Way too often we field calls, do things, etc. for claimants who are repped after the claimant was told by their rep to just call us for us to take care of it. Some things, sure, it's easier and only doable by ODAR or FO employees. But so many times these lazy reps are literally pawning nearly all their work (aside from showing up on the day of the hearing) on the agency since the good ol' regs make it abundantly clear it is ultimately our responsibility to make sure everything is taken care of, even if the claimant is repped. So much time is wasted by SCTs and CTs and our front desk people doing things for a claimant their reps can and should be doing. Maddening.

What other area of law leaves so much burden on the court itself (in this sense ODAR basically is acting as a court) to make sure a REPRESENTED PARTY takes care of everything needed to be taken care of? Nonsense. Pure nonsense.

فن بیان said...

شما به هر حرفه ای که مشغول باشید، حتما به این موضوع فکر کرده اید که چقدر خوب بود که اگرفن بیان خوبی داشتید، اینکار را ما به راحتی به شما آموزش میدهیم فن بیان در واقع میزان نفوذ سخن شما در افراد را شامل می شود. یعنی اینکه صحبتهای ما به چه میزان در افراد اثرگذار خواهد بود. هنگامی که از فن بیان خوبی برخوردار نباشیم مدام نادیده گرفته می شویم و همین امر موجب می شود که اعتماد به نفس خود را از دست داده و دچار اضطراب گردیم. برای بهبود فن بیان روش های گوناگونی وجود دارد که هریک از این روشها از جنبه های گوناگون مورد سنجش و بررسی قرار گرفته است. ارتباط چشمی ، لبخند زدن و اشتیاق برخی از این راهها می باشد.