Jan 5, 2020

Another Social Security Employee Speaks Out

     A letter to the editor of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:
Recently, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Andrew Saul announced that offices would be open all day on Wednesdays nationwide. Currently, offices are closed on Wednesday afternoons.  
I have worked for Social Security for 18 years and currently work in a local field office. There will be consequences to this new policy that Saul did not disclose. Local workloads will increase. Staff currently use Wednesday afternoons to reduce workloads. That time will now be spent taking in more work with even less time to process it. Processing times will increase as the workloads increase.  
Social Security staff take our service to the public seriously, and we want to do the best job we can. However, as workloads continue to increase, so does the pressure to process the work more quickly in less time. There will be a significant increase in employees who retire or leave as a result of the added stress. The majority of employees who leave are usually not replaced and it takes years for new employees to become proficient because of the complex and technical nature of the job. The employees who remain are even more stressed and the cycle continues. 
The problem started when the agency made the poor decision to cut staffing when workloads increased as baby boomers aged. The problem will continue until the agency decides to hire enough frontline employees for us to be able to do our jobs correctly and provide the level of service the public deserves. With enough staffing, we could be open all day on Wednesday and allow time for employees to process work in a timely manner.
I feel the work I do is important, and I want to provide the best service to the American public. However, Saul is implementing a policy that will make my job more difficult and ultimately affect the service to the American public. 
Karime Masson


Anonymous said...

Little bit of a logic problem there. He says they will further behind because they will take in more work because they will be open on Wednesday afternoons. Hmmmm. Let's see, they will take on more work? Does that mean there are folks out there that need assistance and aren't getting it because they are closed on Wednesdays? That seems to be what he is saying, doesn't it? How else would they be taking in more work? Isn't the workload really going to stay the same? Isn't being open a few more hours going to give them more time to serve the public? And, won't it probably shorten wait times for the public when they come into an office? Shouldn't the amount of work really be the same, unless, of course, some folks aren't getting their needs met because the offices are closed? If that is the case, shouldn't the offices be open? Or, is it better that the workload is less but some people aren't getting served? See, if you think about what the guy is saying, it just doesn't make sense. Either, there are folks now who are not getting access to services because the offices are closed, or they are getting services, just in fewer hours, in which case, the workload won't actually increase. This is a typical reaction to change by people who are generally resistant to change. There isn't really much logic to be found in most of these complaints. They are just complaints by people who don't like the change but really can't justify their reasons for disagreeing with it. Its really typical of what you see from folks in this type of situation. You may not agree with what Saul is doing but at least give him credit for trying. SSA is the most dysfunctional organization I've ever seen, by far. Some things need to change. But, people are going to react this way to any change. So, the only way to keep those folks happy is maintain the status quo - but, the status quo is awful (unless you currently are teleworking sos that no one can reach you and you don't ever have to return calls so you can really avoid a lot of work that way - then the status quo is great for you - sucks for those needing something from the agency but can't get an a response because you are teleworking). If you guys want to keep teleworking, closing part of the week,etc. find a way to fix your dysfunctional agency so that the job gets done. Complaining because someone is making changes that, in hopes, will make things better, doesn't help. If you don't like what Saul is doing, suggest something else. It bears repeating, the status quo is awful - so, change is needed.

On another note, probably the best change that could be made is to centralize a lot of what the field offices do. There is simply no reason the field offices should be processing initial apps, 1696s, payments, etc. That could and should all be centralized, at least by region or state. It is inefficient to have those functions done by people who are assisting the public in the local offices. The field offices should simply be customer service centers where people can go to get assistance and they should only be staffed to a level sufficient for that purpose. It would be signficantly more sufficient to centralize all the application processing and payment stuff. But, then there would be fewer jobs in the field office and congressmen would be complaining about jobs being taken out of their districts. But, when you've dealt with mountains of lost paperwork that you sent to a field office, you really wish the agency would find a more efficient and reliable way to process it.

Anonymous said...

@526 If there is going to be the same amount of work (which does seem a reasonable assumption) then why not keep the offices closed on Wed afternoon so some of that paperwork (especially the more time consuming work) can be done? After all, it's the same amount of work whether open then or not.

Re change and dysfunctional agency--you do realize that the letter writer has no power to change much at all except the experience for the claimants that the writer comes in contact with.

Re centralization--a good deal of the traffic into offices is SSI related. While some of the issues can be solved by the CSRs you agree to keep working locally, much has to be solved by CRs that would now not be local.

Not sure sending mountains of paperwork to a central location/payment center type place would be more efficient than a local office.
More than 50% of the retirement claims are filed online and processed in payment centers. The only ones referred to a local office are ones where lawful status/citizenship, date of birth, etc are issues.

Anonymous said...

Many employees are resistent to change. They aren't resilient and have grit. They don't seek self development or arent motivated to find new ways of doing things. They are more interested in everything being fair. Any problems are management being unjust.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the same employee name and the same letter you posted on 12/23.

Anonymous said...

There are some employees that are resistant to change no matter the change. However, I'd suggest most employees are resistant to nonsensical change across the board.

To 5:26, you're missing the point. No one, including the author of the letter, has denied that there is a shortage of customer service in SSA. The question is how to best address it. You and others within the agency seem to believe that magic exists to do more work in the same amount of time. I know OHO attorneys got a similar message when they were told that their decisional
quality should remain the same despite having a requirement that they increase production by 15-20%.

Let's say you run a t-shirt printing business that has a massive customer base that keeps you and two other employees taking orders from open until close. To actually print the orders, you have to close the front of the shop to customers and stop taking phone orders, which you decide to do daily from 2pm until 6pm to actually get the work done. Only having your shop open for orders from 8am to 2pm leaves some potential customers waiting until the next day or unable to get through on the phone because of how busy you are. What do you do to address this unmet demand?

You could simply increase the work shift from 8am until 11pm every day and make the shirts starting at 5. This would allow for both production and serving many more customers. Of course, that costs money through overtime, and no one wants to spend more money. Also, even if more money is made available, you run the risk of burnout from you and your employees, causing them to seek employment elsewhere and forcing you to slow down your business by having to hire and train new employees.

You could hire additional employees to either help with customer service and serve more people in a quicker manner while freeing up time and increasing production on the back end or perhaps having the new employees exclusively focus on printing the shirts all day while the original crew took and processed orders all day.

Or you could engage in magical thinking and somehow believe that you can stay open all day taking orders while also being able to produce the shirts with the same number of employees.

Ms. Masson's point is #2 makes the most sense. 5:26's appears to be the third.

Anonymous said...

Not another employee... same employee, different newspaper.

Anonymous said...

5:26 - Your statements about teleworking are inaccurate " unless you currently are teleworking sos that no one can reach you and you don't ever have to return calls so you can really avoid a lot of work that way - then the status quo is great for you - sucks for those needing something from the agency but can't get an a response because you are teleworking " -- Teleworkers are equipped with a Soft-Fone which means it is the same as sitting at your desk . A teleworker can and does answer/make calls when teleworking. Additionally Teleworkers have Skype capability and can communicate instantly w/ the FO , in fact teleworkers receive and respond to Staff / Mgmt in the FO instantly on a telework day(s),

Tim said...

Well, if a "great deal of the traffic into offices is SSI related"... Then Congress needs to either provide the funding, or change the rules to make it MUCH simpler to administer. SSI's rules are just not practical, they are arbitrary, and they are inhumane... in addition to being costly. Yes, I know the "it's welfare" crowd wouldn't like it. Some of the current wage and gift restrictions date back to 1974! The asset levels are 1989. Saul needs to know that Congress could make the program easier to manage!

Anonymous said...

The program could be and should be simplified in many of it's rules. The gross waste on people with million dollar special needs trusts is disgusting. Help the people that really need the program as it's a program of last resort.

Anonymous said...

The main point is Saul, like most in Congress, are completely out of touch with the volume and work task of the agency. The t-shirt analogy is the best comparison I’ve heard yet. And to those complaining about teleworkers, the majority of people teleworking in the agency were not in the field. What’s the difference in answering a FO call for assistance in the RO or sitting at home. What’s the difference calling the TSC if the agent is answering at home on in the distracting office.

My interaction with Saul is that he’s clueless. During an open Q and A with him, an analyst asked about improvements to attorney fee processing and if there was budget for that. His response “why do people have attorneys with them when they file. That has to be rare” DCO Kim quickly changed the subject and guided the Q and A after that point. He came in with a sledge hammer without looking at what each wall he was tearing down was supporting. This agency is very different than other agencies in its mission and reach and people who haven’t been on the front lines can’t understand that. Bottom line is the need for more staff in the FO, DDS, and OHO period . And in two-three years when they are competent the agency will see a drastic improvement.

Tim said...

Well, Saul...People need lawyers for 4 major reasons. First, ALJs are lawyers and are therefore more likely to accept an argument from another lawyer than they are from some claimant, even if word for word. Second, lawyers know the grids, the five steps, and even the ALJs. Third, the risk of losing in this environment is much more costly the the fee. Fourth, you can't rely on being treated fairly, especially if you are less than 50.

Anonymous said...

Bravo 1:07 - You get it. " And in two-three years when they are competent the agency will see a drastic improvement. " Training a new hire is delicate. Not only does their work need to be reviewed , they need assistance in the course of a task , not just telling them what to do but the why and the policy basis for making a correct determination, thereby taking a seasoned employee away from their assigned tasks. For the first time in decades a new hire was terminated due to poor test performance . This is a step in the right direction . A step in the wrong direction is that most training is now Virtual , no longer in a class room setting . Yes , increased staff is clearly a solution , but Rome wasn't built in a day !

Anonymous said...


Further, at 3 years, new hires have just basic competency and little self sufficiency. It is easier for service representatives, but most claims representatives don't become competent AND relatively productive with any sort of regularity without help on more complex issues until years 5-6.

And, even hiring is going to be a problem. The last time the office I retired from back last July finally got hiring authority, they had to post the announcement three times. The first announcement got one applicant (who I felt was marginally suitable at best -- she later just didn't show up to get fingerprinted and disappeared), the second had no applicants, and the third received a grand total of two. Thankfully, one of those two was just what we were looking for. However, the office won't keep him long as he has a 4 year college degree in law enforcement. With a couple of years of experience, he'll get snapped up by OIG, Customs, or FBI. The sad truth is that nobody in the prime recruitment age range is very interested in working for Social Security.

And, even with new hires, the agency has historically had issues translating new hires into long term employees. For instance, by the time I hit 10 years, of the 28 folks I went to claims rep training with, exactly 5 of us were left. At 15 years, only 3 were left, and those other two were still with the agency when I retired. This isn't unusual, and that is really, really bad, because the prime years for productivity (the time where the employee has developed the knowledge and self sufficiency to tackle the truly complex workloads, of which the agency has ten times as many now as when I was hired) don't begin until the 6th year onwards.

Retention will be even more of an issue now with current young hires. The ones I dealt with in other offices over the last 5 years I worked seemed immature and entitled. I have no confidence that any of them will be with the agency at 10 years.

Anonymous said...

I think you hit it on the head. IMHO I think there is ageism also and there a push to get older workers out the door. There is alot of institutional knowledge that goes out the door. Very very few that have skills don't want to come back as an annuitant.
I think the online training and hybrid classes are horrid. Remember about 5 years ago that hybrid class was rolled out and they had to cancel due to the technical problems?

Anonymous said...


I agree regarding agency training. To put it less nicely, the IVT training experience as a whole sucks. Period. And, worse now, they even eliminated the freaking training manuals! Idiots truly are as idiots do...

Regarding rehired annuitants, five years ago 80% of those hired were in field positions (CR/TE mostly, with some senior SRs as well). Now, 80+% of them are instead hired for central office to spend their days non-productively padding their pensions. The field isn't even being afforded the opportunity to try to hire any annuitants as a result.
Management is getting away with this because they don't have to justify why they rehired annuitants to Congress and OPM so long as the total number doesn't exceed like 1.1% of workforce. So, they basically just waste that unregulated hiring authority by rewarding their best buds.

If they were smart, they'd convince annuitants (and, they probably could convince enough to come back if they tried) to come back and assign them to centralized virtual units to try to tackle problematic backlogged workloads (Internet claims, work CDRs, complex awards, etc) in both the field and the PSCs. Such an arrangement could have actually made a difference since it wouldn't have interfered with field office replacement hiring.

Instead, we get the central office butt-buddies. Not a good trade there.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for pointing out the problem with rehired annuitants in Central Office, primarily in senior management positions. I drew attention to this issue on the blog a couple of months ago and many did not seem to believe me. Many are drawing full salary and full annuity. Quite a good gig, I guess, if you can get it.

Although some of this has always gone on, it escalated to levels not seen before due to the chaos of the current administration. Those who had the gig contacted old favorites and got them in on the opportunity. These people do little to nothing, but this is the group where the doctrinaire, ridiculously rigid personnel policies largely come, along with the Bad Faith CB negotiations, anti-worker sentiment at all costs, pushing out older employees with vast institutional knowledge, PPP’s in the workplace, etc. So pleased others are finally beginning to see the light. A Congressional oversight investigation is needed to get to the bottom of this.

Oh, in case you have not noticed, after I brought the issue up a few months ago, these folks contacted OPM, and encouraged them to allow more relaxed provisions for rehiring annuitants and ability to draw full annuities and salaries. There have been recent articles concerning this on such Federal Employee websites as Government Executive, Federal News Radio, FedWeek & FedManager, FedSmith, and Federal Times. Quite simply, what’s going on here is outrageous and a tremendous fleecing of taxpayers money!

Anonymous said...

I’m not sure what else to do. I continuously call the Maryland Senators and members of the oversight committee as the union president has suggested. The more this administration and current leadership is allowed to push this agency in the wrong direction, the harder our jobs will be each and every day. Everyone needs to be as active as possible in pointing out these issues to anyone who will listen.

Anonymous said...

11:58 I agree on making it simpler. We can go back to the original rules of disability as it was created and eliminate millions of cases to handle.

Anonymous said...

It took two years for me to handle a full alpha work load as a TII CR in the office, and we had to pull CS duty at the front windows daily due to the volume of people that show up every morning. Most of my training class, including me, left the agency in 5 to 7 years. So you only got 3 to 5 years work out of us at a full employee level. I was not replaced for 2 years, the ones that left after me have not been replaced.

Even if you hired a 10% office increase across the board for CRs to help, you would not see the effect until 2022 or2023. Let that sink in.

Anonymous said...


Sorry to burst your bubble, but over 50+ years of litigation, federal case law, and Congressional meddling make that impossible.