Mar 23, 2016

OIG On "Vision 2025"

     The Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee asked the agency's Office of Inspector General (OIG) to review Social Security's Vision 2025 plan. Here's a summary of the OIG report:
Vision 2025 does not include specific, measurable goals or outline the strategy needed to implement SSA's proposed vision. It presents three priorities: superior customer experience, exceptional employees, and innovative organization. Per SSA, these priorities will guide the development of clear goals, detailed plans, and performance measures, which will be outlined in the Agency’s strategic plans and annual performance reports. With this approach, SSA is using short-term strategic planning documents to support a broadly stated “aspirational vision.” We believe SSA’s long-term strategic vision should include specific, measurable goals that clearly outline the service delivery model SSA envisions in 2025 and beyond. This would allow SSA to use its shorter- term planning documents to outline the steps needed to achieve a larger and clearly defined objective.
Also, while Vision 2025 describes its future environmental drivers, it does not explain how the environmental factors will affect its ability to provide services in the future. Additionally, Vision 2025 addresses many of the issues outlined in NAPA’s [National Academy of Public Administration's] long-range strategic plan for SSA, but NAPA’s plan is more specific than Vision 2025. Most importantly, NAPA concluded that SSA needs to develop a more cost- effective service delivery system that is primarily virtual. Vision 2025 does not choose one service delivery method over another and promises a service delivery system that will meet each customer’s desire.
     Let me try to make this easier to understand. Republicans in Congress (and some Democrats) as well as NAPA are frustrated with Social Security. In their view, the current service delivery model, which includes field offices around the country, is inefficient, wasteful and delivers poor service. They don't understand why the agency doesn't move all of its operations online, eliminate its field offices and lay off most of its staff.  That's the "vision" they want from the agency. In Social Security's view, this criticism comes from people who have only the most simplistic idea of what the agency does. These critics envision Social Security as dealing mostly with simple retirement claims and mostly with capable people who can do business online. In reality, while retirement claims involve lots of money and lots of claims, they are only a small part of what the agency does. Most of what the agency does has to do with disability claims, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims and survivor claims. These cases are inherently complicated and the claimants are often seriously impaired. There's no realistic way to put this workload online. There's no realistic way to eliminate field offices.
     Let my give a simple example of the problems that Social Security must cope with. The daughter of an 85 year old woman who is drawing Social Security retirement benefits contacts the agency to say that she believes that her mother is no longer mentally capable of handling her money and needs a representative payee. Someone at the agency contacts the mother who says that she certainly is still capable of handling her money and that the daughter is a drug addict who just wants to steal the Social Security benefits. The person talking with the mother and daughter isn't sure what to do. The mother sounds a little addled but is her condition so bad that she can't handle money? Is the daughter a drug addict? Even if she isn't, is she the best representative payee since it's obvious that the mother and daughter aren't getting along? Is there someone else in the family who could be a representative payee? How is the agency going to deal with this situation only through an online process? Are you really comfortable with someone who is 3,000 miles away investigating this situation and making a decision about what to do? How would you feel about this if this situation was happening in your family?


Anonymous said...

First you have to educate SSA on what happens in the field offices. Most of the employees of SSA have no idea what an SR or CR do in the course of a day. How can you expect Congress to understand if the agency itself has no idea what the ground troops are doing.

When the CRs are allowed out of the office for a public event they are mobbed. Mobbed with complex questions and problems that are not easily solved and will require hours of work.

Anonymous said...

Medicare does its business through online and phone only with SSA handling the eligibility and enrollments/billing. This has created a response in the public for the need for SHIP (Senior Health Insurance Program) that handle all of the problems when people cannot or are unable to navigate the system. These are social service providers, trained by the state, usually the Department on Aging. State budgets are strained across the nation and the cuts impact the Senior and Disabled programs profoundly. We cannot expect people like the SHIP providers to be able to handle the excessively complex SSA program.

I expect this is more fluff and feathers than reality, but then again I thought the same thing about our current crop of Presidential choices.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I didn't think OIG was running the agency...

Anonymous said...

Electronic processing doesn't even work for merely applying for retirement. When I turned 65, I applied for Medicare online and didn't have a problem. When I turned 66 and applied for full retirement benefits, I tried for 4 months and couldn't get access. Then, one day, I finally got access, BUT was informed that it couldn't be processed (with no explanation as to why it wouldn't work). I had to go the local field office, wait 45 minutes, then spent just 10 minutes getting processed.

Charles is right--the higher administrators and IT people have not concept of what needs to be done!

Anonymous said...

The Republicans in Congress don't want to do the dirty deed to SSA because that's bad politics. They want the agency to do it to itself, preferably during a Democratic administration. That way the Republicans keep their hands clean but achieve their goal of gutting Social Security.

The Republicans loved the NAPA report that would have had the agency shutting down its field presence in favor of a DIY online operation. When the agency said 'thanks but no thanks' to NAPA's vision, because everyone from Carolyn on down knows that won't work, Sam Johnson and his staffers blew a gasket. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for all the rest of us, they can't do much more than get the auditors to parrot their language.

Anonymous said...

SSA is hamstrung because it is a Federal government agency. Unlike a private business that can tell the public "here is how we will do business, take it or leave it" SSA must have a business plan that services the entire public. This means online, phone, video, mail, field office etc...Congress only wants more online until constituents complain or SSA wants to close a field office. They always want to make SSA the bad guy.

Tim said...

This is putting the cart before the horse. If you want to close the field offices to save money, then you need to first change rules/laws and computer systems that eliminate the need. One problem that keeps coming up is SS/SSDI/SSI complexity in benefit calculations based upon several factors, including the benefactors pay. Simplification that encourages SSI/SSDI to work would save administration costs while also allowing the disabled to be in a better financial situation. Ultimately, if you (Congressional Republicans) believe more of the disabled CAN work, then it is in your interest to provide every incentive for them to work, including getting businesses to accomodate them!!! And, this includes not kicking their chair out when they attempt to stand. If you want them to try, you HAVE to make it easy and painless for them to return to SSDI/SSI if/when they are unable to maintain SGA. Nobody in their right mind would go through this BS process again if there was ANY doubt that they might NEED to return to SSDI/SSI at ANY point in the future!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

When you request a recommendation from someone who does not understand what's happening where the rubber meets the road, you usually get bad advice. I see the same problem with other recommendations from some (I assume) well meaning academics who issue reports and recommendations about what SSA should do.

A primarily virtual service delivery model like the one OIG appears to recommend would be disaster for many disability claimants. Many have attention, concentration, and cognition deficits or other impairments that would interfere with their use of a virtual system. If you're talking about the SSI program, you are referring to people who often cannot afford computers and online access.

Should virtual service delivery be available for people who can and want to use it? Surely. Should SSA promote those services? Surely. Should you start closing down local offices to save money? Obviously no. Don't believe me? Go to any local SSA office in a busy metro area and hang out there for a day. The ones I go to are more often that not packed, sometimes standing room only. These people, many of them ill, would not be sitting and waiting if they had the ability to take care of business with a few mouse clicks. Start closing local offices and you will start seeing the remaining SSA offices not only standing room only, but with lines of angry consumers going around the block.

If you