Editor’s note: On May 13, David Cox, National President of the AFGE, and Witold Skwiercznyski, President of the AFGE Council of SSA Field Operations, sent the following letter to US Senators and Representatives.
With the publication by SSA of its Vision 2025, it is quite clear that the agency either has no plans for SSA field offices, or that they do, and do not want to talk about them. In a 10,000 word document describing the future of the agency, there are exactly two mentions of SSA field offices – neither one providing any insight into the agency’s plans for serving the public. This is true despite the fact that almost 50 percent of SSA employees work in field offices.
At the same time, the document is absolutely clear and unambiguous on its plans for utilization of the internet and other technology based mediums to provide service. It begins with the statement that MySSA will be the gateway to Social Security. Historically, local Social Security offices have been the face of and gateway to the Program. Removing a trained staff person, capable of answering questions and providing options a computer cannot, would be a major policy shift for SSA and it needs to be examined closely before moving forward. Certainly, the internet and other technologies have their place in serving the public and should be available for those who want to use them, but Americans have paid for personal service, locally based in a field office, and overwhelmingly they support its continuation and even expansion.
The reason SSA gives for this fundamental shift in the way it will operate in the future is the public demand for service in this manner. Yet a November, 2014 Public Policy Poll shows 86 percent of Americans want as many or more field offices in the future. Only 11 percent want to use the Internet or mail to request a replacement Social Security Card. When it came to filing for benefits, just 13 percent of respondents said they wanted to file for retirement online.
Even among people under 30, who are among the most computer literate, that number was only 4 percent.
If SSA has a secret plan to eliminate all or most of the field offices, Congress, the public and the employees deserve to know about it. If they do not, then the agency should be asked to provide some insight into the role of these community offices in the future. It is a reasonable question and it should be put to the agency before this process is allowed to continue. In addition, the agency should be asked about its recent decision to change the definition of “face to face service” to include internet use. Documents accompanying the Vision 2025 plan state “Moving forward we will expand our definition of face-to-face service to include virtual options like video and other online delivery tools.”
We urge you to ask Acting Commissioner Colvin why field offices were not discussed in the Vision 2025 document and what role she sees them playing in 2025. If you support the field office network as strongly as your constitiuents do, please help us clarify this critical issue. Thank you.