Jan 31, 2017

Updated Organizational Chart

     Social Security has posted an updated organizational chart. There's lots of people in acting positions.

Jan 30, 2017

CIO Staying On For Now

     From FCW(Federal Computer Weekly?):
Rob Klopp, CIO [Chief Information Officer] of the Social Security Administration, told FCW that the Trump administration asked him to continue in his role to provide continuity as the new White House settles in. Klopp said he would stay at SSA "for at least the next few months," but did not have a definite end date in mind.
Shortly after Election Day during an IT Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee hearing, Klopp demurred when subcommittee chairman Will Hurd (R-Texas) asked if he would hypothetically stay on board during the Trump administration.
The SSA CIO is in the middle of a wide-ranging IT infrastructure modernization project. In a recent post on CIO.gov, Klopp announced the deployment of the first piece of this effort, a disability case processing system dubbed DCPS2.
Klopp said that the Trump administration's agency beachhead teams have shown a keen interest in learning about what SSA is working on in terms of IT modernization.
"The teams we've met with have really capable guys who are really interested in what we're doing and how they can help and keep it going," he said. ...

Jan 29, 2017

Deep Thought

     Are Social Security disability claimants receiving "extreme vetting" already?

Jan 28, 2017

Trump Hiring Freeze Will Lengthen Already Terrible Hearing Backlogs

     From Bloomberg:
President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze may exacerbate a backlog of appeals for Social Security Disability Insurance that has grown so big that an average case takes more than a year to be heard [actually well over a year]. 
“These are people who are desperate,” Judge Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges union, said. “There may be a hiring freeze on federal employment, but there’s no freeze on people getting older, people getting sicker, people having injuries and accidents, and people needing disability insurance.” ... 
“To better serve the American public, the Social Security Administration needs more budget and staff resources, not less,” said Kenneth Apfel, who led the agency under President Bill Clinton and now teaches at University of Maryland’s public policy school. “I think it’s going to be pretty devastating,” said Michael Astrue, a George W. Bush appointee who served in the same role. ...

Jan 27, 2017

ERE Down

     Social Security's Electronic Records Express (ERE) system is down. It's been down since sometime yesterday. ERE allows attorneys access to their clients' electronic files at Social Security. Attorneys can upload new medical records via ERE. This may be the longest period of ERE downtime I can remember.
     Does anyone have any idea how much longer this will go on? Is it just those of us on the outside who are affected or does this affect Social Security employees as well? If this isn't affecting agency employees I wonder whether higher agency management is even aware of the problem. It's certainly becoming a big deal in my office.

Disability Trust Fund Improves

     Social Security has released the final 2016 numbers on the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. The Trust Fund balance had been declining over the last few years until there was a temporary reallocation of FICA revenues. That started at the beginning of 2016. You can see the improvement that resulted.

Disability Insurance
(Amounts in millions)
Quarter Total income Total outgo Net increase
in asset reserves
Asset reserves at end
of quarter
Qtr 1, 2015 $30,582 $36,483 $-5,901 $54,343
Qtr 2, 2015 33,697 37,241 -3,544 50,799
Qtr 3, 2015 27,508 36,651 -9,143 41,656
Qtr 4, 2015 26,808 36,206 -9,397 32,259
Qtr 1, 2016 39,509 36,509 2,999 35,258
Qtr 2, 2016 45,519 37,049 8,470 43,728
Qtr 3, 2016 38,457 36,444 2,012 45,740
Qtr 4, 2016 36,512 35,914 598 46,338

Jan 26, 2017

ALJ Boini Case Attracts Attention

   The National Review, a right wing publication, has an article on a subject that I've posted about previously, Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Sridhar Boini, who has been charged with indecent assault on two Social Security employees and with having problems with alcohol. The allegations date back to 2012. The agency would like to fire Boini but that's easier said than done. Social Security has to go through special procedures before disciplining an ALJ. In the meantime, Boini is still being paid even though he's not working. This is pretty standard for this sort of situation and, yes, these situations do arise at Social Security. Only a tiny, tiny percentage of ALJs go so far astray that Social Security not only wants them disciplined but doesn't even want them on the job at all. However, with around 2,000 ALJs on duty the agency is bound to have a very few of these cases at any given time. The delays aren't Social Security's fault. The problem is at the Merit Systems Protection Board which adjudicates ALJ discipline cases. I'd be willing to bet that the backlogs at MSPB have to do with lack of adequate funding. I wonder if the National Review would support additional funding for MSPB to help it work off its backlogs. And, yes, ALJs do deserve additional protection against being fired. No one with any sense wants ALJs subject to being fired for merely being independent adjudicators. That doesn't seem to be the case here but take away the MSPB protection and the potential exists. Even the National Review might have been unhappy if ALJs had been fired for issuing decisions that the Obama Administration disagreed with.
     By the way, the National Review article talks about the raises that Boini has received but neglects to mention that they were nothing more than routine cost of living adjustments given to all federal employees. That's the sort of thing that makes you suspect that the National Review has an ax to grind.

Jan 25, 2017

Acting Commissioner Message On Hiring Freeze

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2017 11:36 AM
Subject: Presidential Executive Order Freezing Federal Hiring

A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees

Subject: Presidential Executive Order Freezing Federal Hiring

In my first communication as Acting Commissioner, I committed to keeping you informed when actions directly impact the agency’s mission and employees. 
As you may have read, the new Administration released an Executive Order freezing most Federal hiring effective immediately.  At this time, we do not have specific information to share.  I realize the uncertainty is challenging, but know I can count on you to continue to stay focused on the agency’s mission.  I will continue to do my part to keep you informed as we receive more information from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. 

As always, thank you for all that you do to extend compassion and commitment to those we serve every day. 
Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner

Congress To "Review" Gun Control Regs

     A National Rifle Association press release says that Congress has agreed to "review" the new regulations that just went into effect that require that the Social Security Administration add the names of some individuals receiving benefits through a representative payee to the national list of individuals who are not allowed to purchase firearms. I don't know what the NRA means by "review."

Jan 24, 2017

Hiring Freeze

     The new President has ordered a federal civilian hiring freeze. Ne vacancies may be filled. No new positions may be created. There is an exception for Senior Executive Service positions. The Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) can grant exceptions from the order.
     This is in line with the long-standing Republican talking point that the "federal bureaucracy is bloated." A hiring freeze couldn't possibly cause a problem if there are way too many employees.
     The reality is that federal agencies are already understaffed. A hiring freeze creates problems almost immediately and the problems get worse and worse as the hiring freeze goes on but to understand this you have to have some knowledge about how government works and some concern that it actually does work.

Jan 23, 2017

A Message From The New Acting Commissioner

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Monday, January 23, 2017 8:34 AM
Subject: Commissioner’s Broadcast – 1/23/17

A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees

Following in the footsteps of past Commissioners, I am honored and humbled to serve as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security while we await the confirmation of a permanent Commissioner.

A special thank you to Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin for her years of leadership and accomplishments.  We wish you the best! 

During this time of transition, I ask that you continue to focus on our mission of public service.  Despite any changes that may occur, our focus remains the same – providing service that is efficient, compassionate and balanced while protecting the integrity of our programs.   Whether you serve the public directly or indirectly, you are essential to our success. 

I have been with the agency for over 40 years starting as a GS-2 clerical in Chicago and have always been very passionate about public service.  I know you share my passion. I have seen first-hand your dedication and commitment to our mission.  You, the employees, are the core of what we do every day and the reason we have been able to build a legacy of public service.  I look forward to continuing our legacy together. 

Thank you for everything you do each and every day. 

Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner

Jan 22, 2017


     From some television station in Florida that chooses to hide its call letters:
A Charlotte County Social Security Administration employee was accused of using information from his job to contact women. 
One incident allegedly happened in early January to a Charlotte County woman who went into the office to get a new social security card. 
The victim told NBC2 she never saw this particular employee while she was at the office. Instead, she said she shared her information with another employee, including her name, address, family member names, social security number, and even phone number, to get a new identification card. 
The victim told NBC2 she never saw this particular employee while she was at the office. Instead, she said she shared her information with another employee, including her name, address, family member names, social security number, and even phone number, to get a new identification card. 
Shortly after leaving the office, she said she received a text from a number she didn't recognize. The person on the other side first claimed to have met her out, but later admitted to having seen her at the federal office building. 
“I started getting weird text messages,” the victim explained. “I was just trying to ask how this person got my number. He started lying, saying he saw me out. I know that wasn’t true.” 
The victim quickly became concerned, knowing how much personal information was shared at the office. 
“It really freaked me out,” she said. “It scared me. I didn’t know what to do.” 
She contacted administrators, who indicated this was not the first time someone complained about the employee contacting them personally. 
Weeks later, the victim said a family member saw the same employee still working at the social security office. 
“I felt like it was kind of brushed off like it was no big deal.” 
After a post made by the victim went viral, several comments revealed similar instances of other women involving the same man contacting them after they visited the social security office. ...

Jan 21, 2017

Jan 20, 2017

Berryhill Replacing Colvin

     Carolyn Colvin is no longer Acting Commissioner of Social Security. She has been replaced by Nancy Berryhill. If you are suing the Social Security Administration, you would now sue Berryhill rather than Colvin. If you already have a suit pending against Colvin, you don't have to do anything. This situation is addressed in §25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:
Public Officers; Death or Separation from Office. An action does not abate when a public officer who is a party in an official capacity dies, resigns, or otherwise ceases to hold office while the action is pending. The officer's successor is automatically substituted as a party. Later proceedings should be in the substituted party's name, but any misnomer not affecting the parties’ substantial rights must be disregarded. The court may order substitution at any time, but the absence of such an order does not affect the substitution.

The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters

Jan 19, 2017

Berryhill To Be New Acting Commissioner

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Thursday, January 19, 2017 9:38 AM
Subject: Announcement - New Acting Commissioner

To: All SSA and DDS Employees

Subject: Announcement - New Acting Commissioner

In my farewell message last week, I let you know that I advised the President that I will be leaving my position as Acting Commissioner at the end of his term on January 20th.  Upon my departure, Nancy Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations (DCO), will serve as Acting Commissioner based on the Agency's succession plan.  I have worked closely with Nancy for many years and have the utmost respect for her as a leader.      

Nancy has a distinguished career of over 40 years with SSA.  Prior to assuming the position of DCO, she was the Regional Commissioner of the Chicago region. Nancy has held numerous management and technical positions in SSA.  Her work and achievements consistently demonstrate professional excellence, exceptional leadership, integrity, and commitment to public service.

Please join me in wishing Nancy well as she becomes Acting Commissioner of Social Security. 

Carolyn W. Colvin
Acting Commissioner

What Do You Think?

Jan 18, 2017

No More Discipline For Refusing To Watch LGBT Video

     From WDWS:
A Social Security Administration employee who feared for his job after refusing in June to watch a required workplace-diversity video about the LGBT community has not been disciplined any further and thinks the outcome of the presidential election may have played a part in that.
David Hall, 42, of Tolono said he believes President-elect Donald Trump's win in November is partly why no punishment followed a two-day August suspension without pay for his continued refusal to watch the video, which he believes violates his religious beliefs. ...
Since then, Hall said, another agency employee in Iowa became aware of him through media coverage and contacted him, saying he had also refused to watch the video.
But, as Hall understands it, that employee's bosses didn't indicate the video was mandatory and didn't discipline him at all. ...

Jan 17, 2017

Regs On Evaluation Of Medical Evidence On Hold

     On January 5 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) cleared Social Security's packet of final regulations changes on the evaluation of medical evidence. Ordinarily, once regulations are approved by OMB, they're published in the Federal Register within a few days but these final regulations have still not appeared in the Federal Register. I think it's unlikely that these will be published at this time. If they were published, the incoming Trump administration would probably prevent them from coming into effect until they could be reviewed. These regulations may end up exactly the same after they're reviewed but it may be many months until that review is complete.
     Update: I spoke too soon. These will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow. However, this may make little difference. These regulations cannot come into effect until 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The new President is likely to issue an order preventing any new regulation from coming into effect until it has been reviewed by the new administration.

Jan 15, 2017

Representing Social Security Disability Claimants Is Just A Laughfest

     This happened some years ago. A client told me about being in the emergency room several times recently with chest pain so I wrote to request the emergency room reports. The reports came in. The client had not been admitted. The chest pain seemed to be esophagitis. In case you don't know, esophageal pain is quite common and it can seem very, very much like angina. It sometimes seems to me that everyone eventually ends up in the emergency room because of esophagitis.
      There was another emergency room report that I wasn't expecting concerning a different problem. My client wanted help removing a vibrator that was stuck up his anus. Seriously. A little experimentation with the help of his girlfriend according to the report. We respect our clients but we got a chuckle out of that one until we got a call later that day saying that the client had just died of a heart attack. Seriously.

Jan 14, 2017

How Did He Get Away With It For So Long?

     From the AP:
A former Tampa Bay area postal employee faces up to 15 years in federal prison for stealing more than $2 million in Social Security checks.
A U.S. Attorney's Office news release says jurors found 48-year-old Stacy Darnell Mitchell guilty Wednesday of theft of government property and theft of mail. His sentencing date hasn't been set.
Mitchell was a mail handler for more than 15 years at the processing and distribution center in St. Petersburg. Authorities say Mitchell stole more than 3,000 Social Security benefit checks from the facility from January to October 2012. The checks were sold and cashed at various convenience stores and check cashing businesses.

Jan 13, 2017

A Farewell Message

From: Colvin, Carolyn
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2017 11:49 AM
Subject: Farewell Message from the Acting Commissioner

TO: All SSA and DDS Employees

I want you to know that I have advised President Obama that I will be leaving my position as Acting Commissioner of Social Security at the end of the President’s term on Friday, January 20th.  

I have devoted my life to public service, serving in positions at all levels of government, but serving here with all of you has been the greatest honor of my life.  The times I have treasured the most are the times I have been able to visit your offices to speak with you about the important work we do, and about your dreams and aspirations.  Those are some of my most joyous and inspirational times at SSA.  You are truly the greatest public servants in government. 

Social Security is the most important social program ever implemented in this country.  The agency distributes almost $1 trillion to 65,000,000 people each year.  Millions of our fellow Americans rely on these benefits and the services we provide.  Indeed, many of our seniors would be in poverty if they did not receive their Social Security benefits each month.

Never forget, you make a positive difference every day in the lives of the tens of millions of people who visit our offices, call us on the telephone, or rely on our online services each year.  We can be proud of our numerous accomplishments which represent our shared legacy.  I cannot express the pride I feel in having been part of this incredible work.  Remember, each day, thousands and thousands of individuals may experience, for even a moment, hope, and if we are lucky, a better life, because of something you have been able to do for them.

I want to personally thank you again for the outstanding service you provide and for the support and guidance you have given me.  I wish you much happiness and success in all of your future endeavors.