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“Vision 2025” an SSA Service Delivery Nightmare

By Steve Kofahl, President of AFGE 3937 and a member of PSARA’s Executive Board

On March 10, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) released its draft long-range vision and high-level strategic plan for Social Security Administration (SSA) service delivery over the next 10-15 years. It is being referred to at SSA as “Vision 2025.” SSA had contracted with NAPA, at the request of Congress, to conduct a study and create a report. The seven-member panel of “experts” that led this effort included three former high-ranking SSA officials. I hope SSA didn’t spend too much of our money on the contract, because there wasn’t much of a study done. Based on a briefing AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees) received from SSA, there was no input collected from the public, or from organizations (such as PSARA) that advocate for SSA programs and clients. NAPA interviewed 15 “futurists,” but visited just one SSA field office.

Some of the more troubling portions of this vision are quoted below:

• Use online, self-service delivery as our primary service channel.

• Provide direct service options (e.g., in-person, phone, online chat, video conference) in very limited circumstances, such as for complex transactions and to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

• Build an adaptive and open culture promoting new collaborative arrangements, including those with external partners (e.g., other agencies and advocacy groups).

• Adopt communication and business processes that enable a dispersed workforce no longer working in centralized, traditional offices.

What it boils down to is that workers and their families, and their survivors, would fend for themselves in almost all cases. Non-profit and for-profit organizations and agencies who are willing to help, or interested in making a profit, would try to fill the service-delivery gap in our communities. The Social Security equivalent of H & R Block would probably open storefronts in many communities, charging for services that workers have already paid for with their F.I.C.A. taxes.

To make matters worse, it appears that SSA has already embraced this vision. In her Agency Strategic Plan for 2014-2018, released at the same time as the draft report, Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin has this to say:

Even as we move forward with the strategies we outline here, we have begun critical work to create a long-range strategic vision and plan that supports our mission and goal of world-class customer experience well into the future – our “Vision 2025.”

The Acting Commissioner and her subordinate managers like to say that this is what the public wants and demands, but we know that’s not true. SSA field offices served a record 43 million visitors last year, and call volume to the 800 number created unprecedented delays in getting through to an agent.

The idea that this twisted vision would support a world-class service goal is ludicrous. SSA field office employees receive 17 weeks of intensive training, followed by a year of mentoring, and typically become fully proficient 3-4 years later in understanding and administering the complex programs run by SSA. Those programs include Social Security, Supplemental Security Income for the low-income aged and disabled, and Medicare. How can an applicant for one of these vital programs be expected to learn all that is needed in just a few minutes at a computer? It can’t be done, and the sad thing is that the decision-makers just don’t care anymore whether SSA pays the right amounts to the right people.

We don’t have to accept this vision, and we can stop it from becoming our reality. Contact your elected representatives, and make it clear to them that personal service is something that you have paid for and expect, and that SSA’s Vision 2025 must not become reality.

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