Jun 13, 2016

Thanks GOP

     The Senate Appropriations Committee has reported out the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, which begins on October 1, 2016. I don't have a link but my understanding is that Social Security's administrative funding in the bill is $12.464 billion.  This is up from $12.162 billion in FY 2016 but the entire amount of the modest increase would be appropriated only for program integrity. This means that the money that the agency gets to pay its employees, answer its telephones, keep its offices open, process people onto benefits, hold hearings, etc. has been frozen even though the cost of all of these has been increased by inflation. If this budget is enacted, every problem that the Social Security Administration has is going to get worse. It will be even harder to get through to the agency on the telephone. There will be ever longer lines outside Social Security field offices. It will take even longer to get a hearing. 
     I don't know what it's going to take before the public starts raising holy hell. I'm sure that when that does finally happens, Republicans will blame the Social Security bureaucracy which, in a sense, will be deserved since the agency's leaders have been so timid about blaming their service delivery problems on the Republican led Congress.


Anonymous said...

You almost wish they could take down President Obama's picture at all the local SSA offices, and put up smiling pictures of the Congressional leaders who turned down the budget needed to adequately staff the agency. You could then put a little plaque under the pictures that say,

"Your long lines and waits to get your claims and services provided, courtesy of these elected representatives."

You would see a lot of angry constituents, and before long, I suspect, some new congresspeople.

Anonymous said...

while Colvin has plenty of faults...this is a big one. She has yet to figure out that her job requires groveling to Congress. She has been a silent player when it comes to budget and it is costing the agency.

We are currently in a "hiring freeze"...this means as people leave, they are not replaced. Service continues to suffer.

Anonymous said...


we're only in a hiring freeze because Colvin is so, so, so averse to furloughing employees. Because of this, any time she isn't convinced SSA's budget is going to be great (i.e., every time we are about to get a budget), her strategy has been to cut, save, and skimp all year long just to be safe. Don't forget, we are full steam ahead on hiring the 200-250 ALJs we want this fiscal year, and those employees cost, gosh, at least two and maybe three times as much as the average other new hire at SSA (not even counting their intensive on-boarding and testing/application process, which SSA pays for).

Then, when we finally get the budget (which is always not enough but never the terrible gutted thing we fear) we have a ton of cash we have to blow through the last few months of the year. Literally we go from no overtime most all year then get a MASSIVE allotment to use the last couple months, with our higher ups begging us to work as much as we can and coming back and asking if we can take more hours. And we try to do our hiring in that same brief period every late summer. Do you know how difficult it is to execute the hiring of a federal employee in a tight timeframe??

The biggest part of this cyclical problem is clearly that Congress can't give us the money we need or give us long-term budgets, preventing us from simply knowing what we are going to deal with (and having the resources to properly deal with it all). However, the repeated famine/feast cycle every year is tiring. Even if we got a nasty surprise in the budget, SSA could find a way to make cuts without furloughing if that's what leadership wanted.

Anonymous said...

The only overtime we are allowed to work in the field offices are the so called "Stewardship" workloads. These workloads are medical and work cdr's, RZ's and overpayments. Forget about processing claims and paying people money that they might be due. We get money from Congress to process the Stewardship programs, therefore we must get them processed regardless of whatever workloads suffer.

Also, no one in the upper management cares whether the field office has enough staff "IN" the office to assist people that prefer to do business with the local office instead of the 800#. Scheduling is hard enough around AWS days but now they are pushing telework out to the field offices. I understand that it is a great benefit to the employee but I thought we are here to help the public, not to keep the employees content. Colvin states that if we don't offer telework we can't keep employees. It's not like they are working for Google. We are serving the public and deal with very personal information. As a member of management I have not had one person say they wouldn't work for us if we didn't offer telework. It's just another way to "reduce our footprint" as she says.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:56 and 8:50...I wrote the 8:31 comment and am a mid-level manager at SSA. Yes, I too get frustrated with the feast or famine budgeting and have struggled through long periods of hiring freeze followed by the rushed deadlines to hire at the end of the year.

Yes, I agree that Colvin has pushed telework too much. When you listen to her talk, her first goal is employee satisfaction and high scores on the FEVS. Her second goals are customer service.

She is absolutely the wrong person to be running this agency. Let's hope that the new administration we get in January has the guts/ability to make big changes.

Anonymous said...

I am a midlevel manager, too, and I am really torn by telework.

On the one hand, I don't mind giving employees something that conveniences them in a pretty big way so long as the work gets done. I enjoyed telework when I had it, but I was an attorney advisor drafting decisions--my presence in the office was essentially unimportant.

But since becoming a manager, I see the difficulties telework presents. Even when employees try and do their best, there are certain workloads or tasks that simply cannot be done remotely. So those workloads either get done later, or someone else has to do that employee's work. And there are too many people teleworking too much to set up buddy systems or backups or whatever, especially considering that one unanticipated leave request will topple the whole house of cards.

We have adjusted our workloads and processes in some significant ways to accommodate telework, but some of these issues simply cannot be cured because parts of our business processes can't be changed to be more compatible with telework.

Someone mentioned that field offices were suffering from telework--well at least SSA rolled it out slowly and your folks are only getting one day. In ODAR, pretty much all our employees can get up to three days, and the time between all non-writers getting their first telework day and the three-day expansion was less than a year. Couple that with the lack of guidance and untimely guidance we got about the new MOUs, it left us hard pressed to give folks less than three. Granted we don't see the public as much as operations does, but we still hold thousands of in-person hearings each year and have a very significant in-person, physical presence required workloads.

I've seen productivity numbers decline across the board at ODAR, even with (nobody wants to talk about or hear this, but it's true) ALJs, and the timing lines up neatly with the increased amount of telework.

I want employees to be happy and satisfied, but we have a lot more chips than it seems we know. The economy is still terrible, and getting a fed job these days is like winning the lottery. I don't buy for one second that we'd struggle to get more SRs, CRs, SCTs, etc. to replace the folks who won't do the job without telework. That assertion is absurd on its face to me.

Anyhow, more than all of the reasons we are widening telework, I suspect the primary reason for expansion is to lessen our footprint and attempt to shrink (or at least shrink the rate of growth) of our second biggest expenditure--space.

Anonymous said...

Of course you managers do not want telework. There are jobs in SSA that do not require you to be in office. Job satisfaction increases productivity in those positions. Helping the public is great but there is a work life balance to achieve and SSA is behind the times and now I can see why. Managers like you. So sad.