Assessing Social Security’s Performance
The Social Security Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Annual Performance Plan (APP) and Revised Final Plan for FY 2011 had identified four primary objectives for the agency.
Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue had previously noted when announcing the plan: “With adequate and timely funding and the ongoing dedicated work of our employees, we will continue to deliver on our promises to the American public.”
As FY2012 concludes in September, we can begin to assess how well SSA was able to achieve their objectives. However, it is only reasonable to assess the outcomes in view of “adequate and timely funding” as provided by Congress. The final FY2012 budget approved by Congress was about $1 billion less than the submitted request. SSA has lost 7000 employees in the past two years.
As SSA Deputy Commissioner Colvin had suggested, SSA "would do less with less". While we await SSA’s own assessment against the articulated goals, an outside perspective might be made.
SSA Goals and Objectives:
1. Eliminate Hearings Backlog and Prevent Its Recurrence
- Increase capacity to hear and decide cases
- Improve workload management practices throughout the hearings process
Perspective: The top priority with notable progress. Average hearing processing times have been significantly reduced, new ALJ hires, and several workload management modifications accomplished.
2. Improve the Speed and Quality of Disability Process
- Fast-track cases that obviously meet the disability standards
- Make it easier and faster to file for disability benefits online
- Regularly update disability policies and procedures
Perspective: CAL impairments expanded to 165 impairments effective August 2012; Introduction of electronic 827 (Consent for release of medical records); expectation of extended processing times for initial claims due to staff reductions and increased claims volumes.
3. Improve Retiree and Other Core Services
- Dramatically increase baby boomers’ use of the online retirement services
- Provide individuals with accurate, clear, up-to-date information
- Improve telephone service
- Improve service for individuals who visit field offices
- Process Social Security Number workload more effectively and efficiently
Perspective: Reduced funding has delayed SSA’s automation agenda; on-line statements initiated with success; increased on-line retirement services, dragging a technologically challenged generation into web based services; reduction in hours available to the public for Field Office walk-in services.
4. Preserve the Public’s Trust in SSA Programs
- Curb improper payments
- Ensure privacy and security of personal information
- Maintain accurate earnings records
- Simplify and streamline work processes
- Protect programs from waste, fraud, and abuse
- Use “green” solutions to improve the environment
Perspective: Reduced funding has significantly slowed program integrity plans. The full medical Continuing Disability Review workload (CDR) will be worked at a much lower volume than was anticipated. Astrue has testified that $1 in funding would yield $9 in “savings”. Without adequate funding in FY2013 this workload represents SSA’s “Achilles Heel”.
Summary: Inadequate Congressional funding and diminishing staff threaten service delivery objectives and public confidence in Social Security programs. Additionally, unless Congress identifies and approves Social Security reform legislation the issue of Trust Fund adequacy could also threaten public confidence in SSA programs. The time is here and now proper funding and for reform.