NATIONAL COUNCIL OF SOCIAL SECURITY
MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATIONS, INC.
418 C STREET, NE
WASHINGTON, DC 20002
TELEPHONE: (202) 547-8530
President FAX: (202) 547- 8532
JOE DIRAGO www.ncssma.org
JIM BURKERT December 3, 2009
Secretary House Ways and Means Committee
Social Security Subcommittee
1102 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Las Cruces, NM
To Whom It May Concern:
N. BRIAN RUSSELL
I am submitting the attached Statement for the Record for the November 19, 2009
Executive Officer Hearing before the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee.
This submission is a statement by me on behalf of the:
Immediate Past President
Norfolk, NE National Council of Social Security Management Associations
418 C Street, NE
PAUL GILFILLAN Washington, DC 20002
(202) 547 8530 phone
DEBBY BANIKOWSKI (202) 547 8532 fax
Twin Falls, ID
Phone: (202) 547-8530
Fax: (202) 547-8532
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF SOCIAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATIONS
Subcommittee on Social Security
of the Committee on Ways and Means
November 19, 2009 Hearing on Clearing the Disability Claims Backlogs:
The Social Security Administration’s Progress and
New Challenges Arising From the Recession
December 3, 2009
I am the President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations
(NCSSMA). I have been the District Manager of the Social Security office in Newburgh, New
York for eight years and have worked for the Social Security Administration for 29 years. On
behalf of our membership I am pleased to have the opportunity to submit this written statement
for the record to the Committee.
NCSSMA is a membership organization of nearly 3,500 Social Security Administration (SSA)
managers and supervisors who provide leadership in 1,262 Field Offices and 35 Teleservice
Centers throughout the country. We are the front-line service providers for SSA in communities
all over the nation. We consider our top priority to be a strong and stable Social Security
Administration, one that delivers quality and prompt community based service to the people we
serve, your constituents.
We are certainly concerned about the tremendous challenges facing the Social Security
Administration. We wholeheartedly agree with Commissioner Astrue’s statement that it is a
moral imperative that the disability backlogs be eliminated. On a daily basis, employees in our
offices speak to thousands of individuals throughout the country who are desperate to receive a
decision on their claims for disability benefits.
We are very appreciative of the support that the House Ways and Means Social Security
Subcommittee has provided to improve SSA’s budget situation. The additional funding SSA
received in FY 2008 and FY 2009 has helped significantly to prevent workloads from spiraling
out of control and assisted with improving service to the deserving American public. As an
example, SSA has been able to provide additional resources for our Teleservice Center (TSC)
operations, and recently announced the opening of a new TSC in Jackson, Tennessee, to assist
in reducing our National 800 Number Network busy rates. We are also grateful for the
Subcommittee’s support for the President’s proposed FY 2010 budget for SSA. If this budget is
approved by Congress, it will help SSA continue to make progress on the numerous workloads
we are challenged with, and maintain the momentum that was so difficult to achieve.
As a result of inadequate budgets received over the past decade through FY 2007, the number of
staff in SSA Field Offices declined significantly. In fact, SSA’s staffing levels were, until just
recently, at the lowest levels since the SSI program started in 1974. Because SSA workloads
were growing during this period, customer waiting times increased and call answering rates
declined. With the more adequate funding for SSA in FY 2008 and FY 2009 there have been
significant efforts to restore staffing levels to near where they were in FY 2004, but they are still
lower than in previous years. This additional staff, along with the significant amounts of
overtime we have been authorized to work, have assisted greatly with addressing our rapidly
growing workloads and increased number of customers and callers.
The following is a brief overview of the workload challenges that are confronting Field Offices.
1. Additional Claims and Appeals. Field Offices are expected to receive 1.04 million more
retirement claims and 1.08 million more disability claims in FY 2009 and FY 2010 above FY
2008 levels. In addition to the higher volume of disability claims received by Field Offices, as
the DDSs and the Hearing Offices reduce their backlogs, many more additional claims are being
approved and must be adjudicated to pay benefits due. The Hearing Offices’ cases can require
extensive development and are particularly time consuming for Field Offices to process.
2. Improving SSI Quality and Additional SSI Redeterminations. According to a November
2009 OMB report, in FY 2009 SSA paid out approximately $45.0 billion to SSI recipients.
However, there was an improper payment rate of $5.436 billion or nearly 12.1%, one of the
largest in the Federal Government. A November 2009 study by the SSA Office of Inspector
General stated that for the 5-year period ending in FY 2008 SSA paid $204.5 billion to SSI
recipients. Of that total, $16.6 billion was overpaid, representing 8.1% of outlays.
Underpayments during this same 5-year period totaled $3.4 billion or 1.7% of outlays. Given
the significant overall dollars involved in SSA’s payments, even the slightest errors in the
overall process can result in millions of dollars in improper payments.
The SSA Office of Inspector General stated that completing additional SSI redeterminations
will help to reduce this error rate because SSA will identify these incorrectly paid dollars earlier.
In FY 2010, Field Offices will work about 1.1 million more SSI redeterminations than FY 2008.
This is nearly a 100% increase in SSI redeterminations. The staffs processing these cases are
working at a very high rate of production. In fact, SSA productivity increased by 3.17% in FY
2009. However, we are concerned that despite this increased production, there is insufficient
time to review the cases adequately for accuracy. Improving the process means not only doing
more SSI redeterminations, but also having sufficient time to review the work for accuracy.
3. Medical Continuing Disability Reviews. Field Offices are also processing more medical
Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs). In FY 2008 SSA processed 235,000 medical CDR
cases. In both FY 2009 and FY 2010, we are scheduled to process 329,000 cases. This increase
in processing medical CDRs will assist significantly with addressing program integrity
concerns. However, there is currently a backlog of 1.5 million medical CDRs pending
processing. Accomplishing this medical CDR backlog has the potential to save the American
taxpayers approximately $20 billion. Additional resources will be needed in Field Offices and
the DDSs to process medical CDRs and to ensure program integrity.
4. Work Continuing Disability Reviews. Field Offices are also making a concerted effort to
address the volume of work CDRs that are awaiting processing. Since April 2009, the number
of pending work CDRs in Field Offices has been reduced from about 66,000 cases to the current
55,000 cases. During the same period, the number of “over one year old” cases has been
reduced from approximately 7,650 to under 700 cases. Reducing the number of pending work
CDRs will help to minimize the large overpayments often encountered on these cases.
5. Field Office Customers. Field Offices have worked diligently to redirect resources to
reduce the amount of time a claimant waits to see an SSA interviewer. We are making
significant progress despite our many challenges. In October 2009 a claimant waited an average
of 19 minutes, as compared to 22.8 minutes a year earlier. This is a significant accomplishment
considering the fact that the number of customers visiting SSA Field Offices continues to
increase. In FY 2009, there were over 45 million customers, an increase of 600,000 customers
from FY 2008.
6. Field Office Telephone Calls. Field Offices are struggling to answer telephones with the
increased workload demands. We handled about 58 million calls in Fiscal Year 2009. This is
an increase of 4 million calls from FY 2008. SSA studies by the Office of Quality Performance
state Field Office telephone busy rates were about 58% in Fiscal 2009, which is an increase of
3% from the prior year. Many offices must direct staff to handle walk in traffic to reduce
waiting times, and as a result have insufficient staff to answer telephone calls.
7. Training. Field Office management is having difficulty with allocating sufficient time for
ongoing staff training. Workload demands necessitate that direct staff be assigned to
accomplish production work at the expense of much needed training.
8. eServices or Internet. SSA is transitioning more work processes to electronic service
delivery. The FY 2010 goal is to have 38% of Retirement claims and 25% of Title II Disability
claims filed on the Internet. SSA Field Offices have had to address significant issues resulting
from the increased volume of claims filed electronically. Almost all Disability Internet
applicants must be recontacted to perfect the application. For Retirement claims, many
claimants must be recontacted to address the error prone area of month of election. While
electronic services have assisted Field Offices significantly with the unprecedented high number
of SSA applications received, it is important to note that staff must still spend significant time
processing many of these electronically initiated actions. Also, electronic services provide only
minimal relief to inner city offices, offices with rural service areas, and areas with a high
percentage of non-English speaking applicants, because these areas have populations not as
likely to use or have access to computers or the Internet.
It is essential that SSA continues to receive positive budgets to ensure that Field Offices are able
to adequately serve the American public and to process important workloads. As illustrated
above, even with the recent more favorable SSA budgets, Field Offices are still struggling with
tremendous workload demands. We are also especially concerned about the program integrity
workloads and the billions of dollars that are being lost due to the backlog of medical CDRs and
overpayments in the SSI program.
Commissioner Astrue’s testimony indicates that Field Offices are expected to maintain their
current staffing levels in FY 2010 and about 2,700 additional positions are scheduled to be
added to the Hearing Offices and DDSs. While additional staff is much needed for the Hearing
Offices and DDSs to address the disability backlogs and these positions should not be reduced,
additional staff for Field Offices would yield significant improvement in service to the
American public and assist with the disability backlog. Our network of 1,262 community based
Field Offices is an integral part of SSA’s service delivery system, and the Field Office is where
the disability process begins and ends. Increased staff for Field Offices would reduce workload
backlogs, address program integrity concerns, improve SSI accuracy performance, and allow for
the transmittal of a more accurate and complete disability product that would assist with
expediting disability decisions.
SSA’s flexibility to continue to provide necessary resources in FY 2010 will be determined
much by the President’s proposed budget in FY 2011 and future years. If these budgets are not
adequate to address the workload challenges, the progress made in the past two years will be
eroded. Field Offices could redirect some of the overtime dollars currently expended to hire
additional temporary or permanent employees if flexibility is provided due to the expectation of
a favorable SSA budget in FY 2011.
We believe a minimum of $13.2 billion is needed for SSA’s FY 2011 administrative funding.
This level of funding would provide SSA with the resources necessary to continue the progress
made, while at the same time protecting many Americans from severe and unnecessary
economic hardship. Our community based staffs are very committed to serving the American
public, but we must have the tools and resources to do so. We sincerely appreciate your
ongoing support to provide adequate funding for the Social Security Administration. We
remain confident that this increased investment in SSA will benefit our entire nation.
On behalf of the members of NCSSMA I thank you for the opportunity to submit this written
statement to the Subcommittee. NCSSMA members are not only dedicated SSA employees, but
they are also personally committed to the mission of the agency and to providing the best
service possible to the American public.