Closing SS offices for your benefits
Reduction in face to face services
Summary–Don’t worry, people! We not going to take away all your local SSA offices. Perish the thought! We’re just going to “consolidate” some to provide “better service.” Any thought given to asking for more money to keep current system and improve it? Naw, wouldn’t want to raise anyone in the WH’s temperature, would we? NancyO
There’s been quite a local stir in the communities that have seen their SS field offices close. Now this topic is going national. Clearly this is a political issue. It would be interesting to match up the offices closed to the political stripe of the community affected.
SS has a budget for expenses. For 2014 it will be $6.4B. This money is derived from SS’s own dedicated sources of income.But that is just a third of the cost. SS ALSO gets money every year from the Budget. SS’s new Director, C.W. Colvin has just asked for an additional appropriation (on budget expense) of $12.4B. So the real cost of running SS is pushing $19B. That’s a big chunk of change.
Want to solve this problem? Easy! One of SS’s biggest expenses is maintaining the Parkersburg, WVa office where every day paper is created and stored in file cabinets. This is the ‘official’ record for the SSTF.
Paper? In storage cabinets? This is something that goes back to the 50’s. In 2014 we have something called a computer. There is absolutely zero need for Parkersburg. There is not a private financial institution in the world that would do something as silly as this. Fannie, Freddie, HFA, Sallie Mae, The Fed, Treasury don’t do this. Why should SS do it?
The link to Colvin’s request for the 12 large:
A discussion of Parkersburg:
Krasting as usual you are dead wrong.
If we look at Colvin’s request for “12 large” we see that $12.024 of it is for LAE or ‘Limitation on Administrative Expenses’. If we further look at the following document from SSA:http://www.ssa.gov/budget/FY14Files/2014AE.pdf we get the following language:
“The Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE) appropriation language provides the Social Security Administration (SSA) with the funds needed to administer the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), Disability Insurance (DI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, and to support the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in administering their programs.
The LAE account is funded by the OASI, DI, and Medicare trust funds for their share of administrative expenses, by the General Fund of the Treasury for the SSI program’s share of administrative expenses, and through applicable user fees. The language provides the limitation
on the amounts that may be expended, in total from these separate sources, for the administrative expenses of the agency. ”
Now in your comment you manage to take a $6.4 billion number in “expenses” from the SSA Annual Report and ADD it to $12 billion in LAE to get a total of “pushing $19 billion” when the reality is that LAE’s $12 billion INCLUDES spending for MEDICARE mostly paid from the HI TRUST FUND.
Which for the numerate means taking $12 trillion in LAE and SUBTRACTING the $6.4 trillion of that used for Social Security. My friend you not only doubled counted expenditures but managed to reverse a sign.
Now Social Security does adminster a program whose benefits and administrative expenses are paid from the General Fund. That program is SSI which stands for Supplemental Security Income and can be fairly described as a welfare program for those disabled and senior persons who didn’t contribute payroll tax in enough qualifying quarters (40) to qualify for regular OAS or DI. And if you wish you could extract this expense. And then explain why we should let these two categories of people die in the street.
But rather than that you pull out the mostly unsourced and unsupportable claim that “one of SS’s biggest expenses is maintaining the Parkersburg, WVA office” and attributing that cost to maintaing a paper record of Special Treasuries. Which as you well know are fully tracked by the same computer system you claim SSA somehow never heard of (even though you cite the website that reports those balances monthly ALL THE TIME).
Now if you would like to supply us with the TOTAL budget for Parkersburg as drawn from official sources and then give us the PARTIAL amount of that total actually spent on filing and pulling those paper Special Issues than you would at least not look like a total troll here. But since that amound will likely range from the medium hundred thousands to the low millions at the outside you will likely never bother.
Come on man. You are better than this. Or do you think that I am just not going to read SocSec comments posted to AB? You seem to confuse me for someone that actually has a life.
BTW your cited article on Parkersburg is not only from 2010 but also has bupkis to say about the cost of operating the facility. You seem to have thrown in this random newspaper article for the simple purpose of making people think you did any actual research here. Let me guess: you Googled “Social Security filing cabinet”. Because I just did and had the first non-advertised result be that exact same Dispatch article.
Of course maybe you retired to freaking Columbus Ohio and just have a phenomenal memory for 4 year old throw away articles on SocSec. I mean that COULD be the answer here.
Right you are, estimado socio Webb. Wrong again, BK. The LAE for 2003 the year I retired was about the same as for 2014, IIRC. So was the staffing level. That was about 10M claims and other actions ago. Not to mention at hundreds of thousands hearing and other appeals decisions. Meanwhile, top staff has recently announced its future work plan for 2025. And guess what? With demand for SSA’s services at its highest point ever, the Acting Commissioner says that SSA will soon depend on the internet to provide all services required by the public.
Right. Do you have an older relative planning to retire any time soon? My advice is the sooner s/he retires the better before SSA ceases to provide claims and all currently available cost-free services. Or, we can always wait until your new privatized SS Inc. opens its doors for business. I have given some thought to what a private outfit would charge for the services SSA now provides cost-free. And, ya know, I might un-retire myself to share the wealth they could net on just one medium-sized shop. 😉 NancyO
Webb – Are you defending Parkersburg? Do you really think it’s necessary? There are 1,800 people in this office.
You want something more recent on Parkersburg? Try this from 10/13:
I liked this paragraph:
“In 1954, President Eisenhower met with his National Security Council to discuss where to relocate vital government functions in the event of a nuclear “sneak attack” by the Soviet Union.”
1954? Sneak attacks? You think this is necessary 60 years later?
Then there is this from 7/13:
ACA is all internet. SS is going in the same direction. This is called progress. Get used to it.
You love to worry about privatization. Either you don’t understand things or you’re making up scary stories to frighten other people. I’ve said it to you before, I’ll say once again – There is no chance to privatize SS any longer. That window closed in 2010 when SS went cash flow negative.
If you want to live your life being afraid of something that can’t happen, be my guest. But do the world a favor and stop lying about the realities.
Krasting don’t double down on Stupid.
First from your USA Today article:
“Treasury’s Parkersburg operation had a payroll of $123 million last year, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from the Office of Personnel Management. The average salary was $68,077, and 162 employees made more than $100,000.
Public Debt occupies two buildings downtown, plus a warehouse, mail center and emergency backup center just outside the city limits. Since a merger last year with the Financial Management Service, the agency is technically known as the Bureau of the the Fiscal Service. But the signs still say Public Debt, and everyone but the most senior Treasury officials still call it that.”
$123 million isn’t chump change. On the other hand only a tiny fraction of THAT is directly expended on that SSA filing cabinet. The key word here is ‘Public Debt’ as in ‘The Bureau of Public Debt’ which manages ALL the Public Debt financing which includes a hell of a lot more activity than just the bi-yearly creation of Social Security Special Issues.
The SSA is headquartered in Baltimore, the Bureau of Public Debt in Parkersburg. So what? Do you think there would be 100% admin savings by never have locating those operations outside of DC? It would all have been free? Or now that we are less in danger of a sneak attack by Russia that thre would be huge savings from moving those operations now? To one of the highest cost of living cities in the country? Which COL is by the way reflected in the pay of the relevant employees? (It is cheaper to hire a GS 13 in WVa than DC because of the locality differential).
So yes I can defend Parkersburg. To the extent that the operations of the Bureau of Public Debt are necessary to the country, and somehow I doubt that a retired bond trader would claim that the entire management of the U.S. Debt is anything but, then we would be spending much or all of that $123 million anyway. And as it is we are spending it not within a Metro area that already takes a huge percentage of government payroll but instead in a State which really can use the money those bureaucrats spend, and BTW a State where those bureaucrats can maybe afford to buy a house and raise their kids.
You might have been better off just slinking away here. Because I see nothing untoward with this from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureau_of_the_Public_Debt
“Today, the Bureau of Public [Debt} also make insurances and issues securities through the market.  The creation was part of a Treasury reorganization plan where the Public Debt Service was officially designated the Bureau of the Public Debt. Public Debt has had a presence in Parkersburg, WV since 1954, when the city was designated a relocation site for Public Debt in the event of a national emergency. In 1957, Parkersburg became the electronic processing center for savings bonds, and from 1993 to 1996, Public Debt consolidated and transferred the majority of its operations to Parkersburg. Today, over 95% of Public Debt employees work in Parkersburg.”
What the hell is there to defend here? The hit to the housing market in Fairfax or Langley Virginia because dollars are being spent away from DC?
Krasting ACA isn’t “all internet”. Not only are there call centers where people can talk to live representatives, all the major insurance vendors have their own customer service operations. If you want to consult with a live person about buying insurance through the Exchange there are any number of public and private options to do so.
Not to mention that it was overreliance on the Internet that led to much of the original debacle that was the rollout. A little more provision for personal handholding would have been an excellent idea from the outset. Except for self-satisfied technocrats that were filling to tell tens of millions of Americans to “Get used to it”.
Krasting you are rapidly straying into the area of self-parody here. Though in all fairness I must admit that I already “Got used to it”.
Yes, BK, you can actually talk to a real person when you file for health insurance under the ACA. A lot of people like that feature and would pay for the privilege when filing for SS benefits. Just sayin’. Also too, census data shows that US residents speak some 300 languages other than English and Spanish. I suspect it will be hard for a lot of immigrants who speak little or no English to all electronic SSA.
Meanwhile, Congress is unresponsive to budget requests which would adequately fund current levels of field office service to the public. In the absence of support from the WH, SSA’s top staff”s only available course of action is to reduce or eliminate local office service completely. NancyO
I see no problem with closing offices considering the ability to sign up over the internet. I have had several friends do it and they tell me it is a piece of cake.
Certainly there will be logistical problems for some, but this is not rocket science here. Geez, it is not even close to ACA science.
I started getting my Social Security a couple years ago and thought my experiences might be interesting. I did find the web sign up both easy and fast. 15-20 minutes. I was wintering overseas during this time so they had to talk to me over the phone to verify things. This took a little bit of email back and forth to figure out what office to use to minimize the time difference; once that was done it was maybe 10 minutes on the phone. They mailed me my verification letter at the hotel I was staying at.
Now a year and a half later I had to go into an office because I’d forgotten to change my contact address when I got home. I could have done it over the phone if I’d had the overseas hotel address with me. BTW, I did 2 calls first and each started with 40 minutes on hold. That they need to speed up. When I went into the office, without an appointment, it was 30 minutes from entrance to exit. 15 minutes of wait time. I think that’s pretty good, and was similar to the experiences I had at 2 other SS offices a few years ago when I had to get a new copy of my birth certificate.
There’s a lot of people who don’t have good access to internet, especially secure access. Having an office available is a big plus for them. And of course there are still a lot of people who just aren’t good at online, or who are form-phobic. They benefit from having an office to go to.
Bottom line is that in my dealings with SS the people have been knowledgeable and they’ve been easy to get hold of except by cold calling the general phone number. That they need to improve. The rest they just need to not screw up.
EM, the SS claims system is not completely automated. That is, disability claims both for SSI and regular SSDI benefits require an interview to complete the process as things are now. As to the likelihood that the current system will be completely automated to permit processing disability claims within the next 10 years, I’d say it’s slim or none. SSI became a federal program on Jan. 1, 1974. At that point, certain aspects of income computations were not automated. Claims reps. had to compute the payments manually to get the computer system to show the correct income amounts. It is still so now, 40 years later. Even more antique is the SS initial claims system. It’s underlying programming is written in COBOL. FYI. NancyO
Nancy, I understand and certainly am against budget cuts to SS admin.
However, if a high percentage of claims can be done on line, then obviously a reduction in offices make sense. And perhaps the money they save on the offices will move them into the 21st century and move much of the process online.
EM you are working according to two old fashioned concepts that went under the names of “logic” and “good faith”. The current process by which Social Security Admin has to go through the Appropriations process even though the funding is legally Off-Budget and has a current asset pool of $2.8 trillion is subject to neither.
Under the Budget rules in question Social Security officially is $60 billion in surplus. Doubling Social Security LAE would reduce that surplus to be sure but only subtract from that $2.8 trillion in assets. And only have DI minimis effects on the situation in 2017 when those surpluses officially turn to deficits. And nobody is suggesting doubling LAE, in fact I suspect most knowledgable supporters would agree to maintain it at its current rate of just under 1% of Cost for combined OASDI.
Now if Congressional Appropriators were actually all about directing savings from Field Office closing to actually improving computer systems or reducing costly administrative backlogs in DI approvals/denials then we would have something to talk about it. As it is the R’s on Ways and Means and Appropriatiioms and JCT deem bound and determined to drown Social Security in Grover Norquists bathtub simply to demonstrate that “Government is the Problem”. By actively promoting lousy direct customer service.
Now maybe there is some huge Republican driven effort to upgrade Social Security’s front end and back end computing that neither Nancy or I ever heard of. But between the two of us we try to cover the bases and certainly I am not seeing anything of the sort.
So in the abstract I thoroughly endorse your last comment. That would indeed POSSIBLY be the right trade off. But I see no evidence that anything like that is happening, and certainly not at the direction of Congressional Appropriators. I am all ears.
Run on your 7:34. Was that directed to Nancy? Or to me? Or for some inexplicable reason to the other Bruce?
If to Nancy I have both your e-mail addresses and can forward either direction. And for what it is worth Krasting’s.
I have no belief whatever that those who are trying to cut the SS budget are acting ” under the names of “logic” and “good faith”.
Two different stories.
Increasing efficiency is what I believe in. Not cutting budgets in the “name” of increasing efficiency.
If I have less people coming into SS offices, it makes sense to have less SS offices. But I want to spend the money elsewhere to improve efficiency. Computer upgrades, process changes, etc.
I think people view Social Security as a process they do not want to mess up and one that, when they run into issues, they need a reassuring voice. Now that voice could come from a phone call but the idea of a phone call brings up memories of call centers and outsourced help desks with contractor personnel with high turnover, little expertise, and expedited BS. As far as the internet goes, I’ve been on the internet far longer than your average Anna. My husband cannot get a My Social Security account because the ssa disagrees with his and my own memory of his own life. Reading back and forward over his credit reports and other records and sitting at the computer with the actual documentation has not produced an answer to some unknown question that ssa agrees with. They seem to have gotten poor data or the software is associating some record it has without proper context. I will eventually contact the ssa by phone but he, the typical elderly low tech person, would have dropped by the local office for assistance. As I said, the ssa faces years of people’s memories of bad experiences with call centers. And, I would not doubt that lobbies will get the call tasks outsource to the exact same low paid, low experienced, don’t care one iota about you businesses that people fear. The smart internet process is not foolproof.
EMichael, I could be wrong but I doubt that you are a 84 year old great grandfather who is still struggling with your AARP cell phone. Did anyone actually listen to the testimony at Nancy’s link?
If the topic is SS it’s been yet another edition of “Simple Answers to Stupid Krastings” I mean questions. Yeah questions.
Amateur Socialist, Krastings isn’t stupid. He’s very smart at what he does – hijack otherwise reasonable conversations. No one here is paid by the minute spent with BK. No, indeed, they give it away free.
Well that’s why it’s a Krasting. Not a question. Not really.
Dear Bruce (Webb)
Thank you for fact checking Krasting. It is something you do very well, and something our side needs… if only the people would pay attention.
I’d add my little bit to Krasting… but again really only for the people who are paying attention:
even if he were right that “the real cost of running SS is pushing $19B” That’s NOT “a big chunk of change.” Not when you are talking about running a program for FIFTY MILLION PEOPLE. Somehow it is beyond Krasting’s capacity to consider the cost of something at the same time as the benefit of it. Hey you can always take a BIG number and run around yelling the sky is falling, the sky is falling… as long as you ignore, or can’t think, that that big number comes from the fact that we are a big country with lots and lots of people “getting and spending” over 15 TRILLION dollars a year. Or, if you are like P.Peterson only able to think of how nice it would be if that 19 Billion dollars was in P.Peterson’s pocket instead of being wasted on all those people who aren’t even working any more.
you want to watch out for that “efficiency” stuff. Especially when it’s other people’s efficiency you are worried about. There are almost always important factors you can’t think of because you don’t know the real problem faced by those other people.
And it gets real easy for evil people to sell you “efficiencies” that are inhuman cruelties.
Of course there are bad “efficiencies”, but what makes you think those are the ones I am in favor of? You think an upgraded computer system would necessarily be bad? How about taking away that face to face meeting to finalize a disability case with a web meeting? Or in the case of internet or computer impaired people, a personal visit? The Medicare readmission part of the ACA has spurred providers to follow up with patients, both online, by phone and personal visits. I see no reason why keeping people out of the hospital is not the same as keeping people out of the SS office if it can be done more easily.
Not that I disagree, but how many “84 year old great grandfather who is still struggling with your AARP cell phone” visit SS offices every year?
EMichael it was you that made the link between “closing offices” and “efficiency” which seemed to have the not so buried assumption that one would in real life somehow facilitate the other. But there is no evidence that any savings from shutting field offices would in fact be invested in any meaningful way to actually improving efficiency. To believe that there was such a link did to me require the assumption that the Appropriators were acting with good faith and not just intent on making Social Security appear to be a failure.
I mean they are not even trying here. If Congress was actually pressing SSA to upgrade systems and providing funding to do so, even if that funding was proposed to be diverted from other current operations, then we might have a discussion here. Instead we have a multi-year process whereby Republicans ideologically opposed to Social Security (which they have been since 1936) using their powers over the Appropriation process to ‘starve the beast’.
Now being faced with starvation SSA has chosen what I think is a very flawed policy path, that of actively pushing field office closures to try to appease Appropriators. To me this seems similar to attempts to prevent your flock from starvation by sacrificing a ram to the Gods. This doesn’t help much if the Gods are on an active campaign to kill your flock off.
If efficiency and medium to long term cost saving are the goal a more effective response would be a short term infusion of funds offset by reductions in current Trust Fund balances. There is no LOGICAL reason why those off-budget funds should be offset by cuts in other off-budget expenditures during the remaining window when Social Security is in a period of $60 bn surpluses. This is particularly so in the case of the Disabiity Insurance program which suffers from a ridiculous back log in part due to outsized fear of approving fraudulent claims. If the real goal is to reduce fraud the answer is to direct more funds to the staff who review claims and investigate claimants and so approve legitimate claims the first time through the system. Rather than the current backwards system that can be (not unfairly) summarized as “Deny everyone and then approve most on appeal a year and a half later – with back benefits”.
Combined OASDI has administrative costs right under 1% of benefits. Which is a point of pride. But also a reason to question why this agency of all agencies is a target for efficiency cuts. I mean what agency anywhere in government is doing better?
Which BTW is where the ‘logic’ failure comes into play.
I guess what makes me think you would be in favor of bad efficiencies is that you persist in recommending them, and pay no attention to my suggestion that it is easy to call for efficiencies when you don’t know anything about the real problem.
“you think an upgraded computer system would necessarily be bad?”
i came nowhere close to saying or implying that. but that’s the kind of inference that drives arguments into futility.
i think Bruce has given you a better answer… but it is by no means clear than any of us are talking about the same thing.
you seem to think that I am a Luddite opposed to progress. Bruce seems to think you are an ignorant and careless thinker (my words, not his). I think that you are like most of the rest of us most of the time… ready to jump to conclusions based on what “sounds good” to you…. without the trouble of actually knowing anything about the real problem.