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EMERGING STAFFING ISSUES
Question. Recent legislation requiring that SSA provide the telephone numbers and addresses of about 800 local field offices and other issues, such as SSA's agreement to commit additional resources for SSI outreach raise questions regarding the adequacy of SSA's current staffing.
Does SSA have the right amount of staff to work its workloads and serve the public adequately and effectively? How do you know if you have too little or too many?
Answer. Let me explain briefly how SSA develops its national budget estimates. SSA develops its national budget estimates on the basis of the work we have to do. The budget estimates reflect the best judgement of how much work we will process and the amount of resources required to process that work. SSA develops what have been called "did take" times for each major workload through the use of work sampling. SSA examines the "did take" time developed for each workload to identify any portions which should not be accepted without adjustment. This adjustment is based on years of work experience with production rates for each of nearly 150 workloads processed in SSA's major operating components. Factors evaluated for adjustment include systems enhancements, procedural simplifications, mix of work, substance or work, employee productivity, etc. After all adjustments to the "did take" time are completed, the resulting "should take" time is then used for projecting future Agency-level resource needs.
SSA's FY 1992 administrative budget request also recognizes the need for fiscal constraint as well as the need to address the significant workload increases which SSA faces. SSA will focus its limited resources on critical public service workloads. While in general the present level of service will be maintained during the budget period, we may see the number of cases pending increase and processing times grow.
There are separate questions whether SSA has the right amount of staff in place to process its workloads, or whether SSA delivers the right levels of services to the public adequately and effectively. SSA is vitally concerned with improving operating effectiveness and efficiencies and takes steps to insure that staff are in the right place through ongoing assessments of workforce needs. SSA is working to develop and utilize new tools and methods for workforce planning. For example, SSA is just beginning to examine application of computer modeling techniques to help determine the relationships between our current service measures and staffing levels for different types of field offices. Efforts are also underway to make available to operations managers additional data which may be useful in workforce planning decisions.
Since the desired level of service to be provided to the public is a key factor against which the efficient use of SSA resources should be measured, SSA's strategic planning process has led Agency management to more clearly define the services we provide and to establish quantifiable long-term goals and objectives for service delivery. Once the Strategic Plan is issued, during the summer of 1991, the Agency will then be
developing shorter-term tactical objectives. These objectives, which will be reflected in the Agency's shorter-term (5 year) tactical plans, will reflect quality standards as well as the more traditional measures of quantity and timeliness. SSA's tactical plans are expected to be completed in early 1992. The results of this effort will, among other things, enhance SSA's ability to evaluate the performance of field offices and the allocation of staff resources.
Question. What progress has SSA made in developing workload standards in order to determine what its total staff needs are and whether additional resources are needed or whether existing staff can be redistributed to meet the emerging staffing issues?
Answer. Under any system of SSA work force planning, it is critical to keep in mind that our employees need to take the time to make sure the Government is serving the needs of its most vulnerable citizens. A single stopwatch measure of what it should take to process a Social Security claim is inconsistent with our mission. SSA's methods and procedures are not static, but continuously evolving. Our 1,300 field offices differ in physical layout, staff mix, clientele, demographics, etc. For example, a survivor's claim involving an elderly, illiterate widow who is hard of hearing is likely to take longer to process than a claim involving a younger, healthy, highly educated citizen. As I have indicated, we do need and are working on better ways to improve workforce planning.
Question. Where does SSA stand on developing a workforce plan for the future as part of its agency-wide planning process?
Answer. The Agency Strategic Plan (ASP), to be published early this summer, will include a description of the workforce needed to support our long-range vision for SSA and the major steps we plan to take to attain this workforce. We expect to complete a workforce plan, describing in detail how we will move towards achieving our workforce of the future following publication of the ASP.
Question. Morale at SSA had been characterized by GAO and the studies done under the previous Commissioner as very low. What have you done to gauge the current level of employee morale? What measures have you taken to address present employee concerns?
Answer. Current SSA morale is being gauged by Secretary Sullivan's Departmentwide assessment of organizational climate. This longitudinal assessment process includes surveys of a 5. percent sample of SSA employees several times a year. The first quarterly questionnaire was distributed to SSA employees in late January, and we hope to see those results this spring. Since the core questions on the Secretary's surveys are identical to those SSA used in April 1989, we expect the results will indicate trends over time.
In addition, we are now developing a supplemental survey process to solicit the underlying causes of employee perceptions. Given that the HHS process lets us know what employees think, we want to know why.
Some of the measures already taken to address the employee concerns include:
The creation of "strike teams" which made on-site visits to
Appointment of an ombudsman to identify and assist in
SSA's first child care centers will open in 1991 at our largest sites--Woodlawn and Metro West in Baltimore. We are also exploring the possibility of establishing additional centers and offering elder care services, as well;
Increased recognition of employees through on-the-spot cash awards;
Training and career development programs are in place for GS-4 through GM-15 employees. New first-level supervisors receive training at SSA headquarters. A career development handbook has been issued to identify projected vacancies and let employees know about qualification requirements for career advancement;
Positive, constructive dialogue with employee unions; and
As a result of reorganization, the employee relations
TECHNOLOGY-RELATED SYSTEMS ISSUES
Question. A key factor in managing SSA's operation is a planning process which guides policy, budget, and ADP modernization, in both the short and long term. While SSA has developed a long-range plan, it has not completed those planning activities it considers essential for determining the most costeffective ADP design to meet future operational requirements. These activities include: determining what functions the agency wants to perform to support the type of public service envisioned by the long-range plan, determining the level and type of resources needed to achieve its plan, and determining the levels of timeliness and accuracy associated with its public service goals. When will these activities be completed?
Answer. Our renewed Agency Strategic Plan (ASP) which represents the highest level of the comprehensive Agency-wide planning process should be available by summer. The ASP will contain a long-range vision of how SSA will look and operate in the future--a strategic planning framework which lays out our service goals and objectives and the broad transition events that will need to take place to move us toward our vision. Subsequent lowerlevel planning activities, including an information systems plan, will be completed following publication of the ASP. These more detailed planning activities will focus on the nearer term, approximately the next 5 to 6 years.
Answer. The costs of systems investments in support of the ASP will be addressed in the more detailed planning being completed for the near-term period of the next 5-6 years.
When will the agency strategic systems plan be
Answer. The initial version of SSA's information systems plan (ISP), which describes SSA's major automated systems efforts through FY 1997, will be published by this spring. Once final Agency strategic decisions have been made and the ASP is published, the ISP will be updated. The updated ISP will show how SSA will move during the next 6 years towards achieving the systems environment necessary to support the vision in the ASP. The updated ISP should be available during July 1991.
INFORMATION RESOURCES MANAGER
Question. Another key factor in improving efficiency and, hence, service is better integration of all the technology-oriented functions namely ADP, telecommunications, software development, data administration, and data base management. To accomplish this, SSA needs an information resources manager, with the responsibility and authority for setting policy and coordinating agency-wide activities relating to information resources.
Has an information resources manager been appointed?
Answer. HHS requires that the agency principal information resources manager (IRM) be an individual who reports directly to the head of the Agency. The Senior Executive Officer fulfills this role in SSA. The Senior Executive Officer is assisted by the Office of Information Resources Management, which has a staff of 11, headed by a Senior Executive Service official.
The director of the Office of Information Resources Management provides leadership in defining the IRM policy and program for SSA, ensuring compliance with Federal law and the policies of OMB, GSA and HHS, producing the annual IRM plan, and oversight of the IRM review program.
Support for the Agency's IRM program also comes from the Deputy Commissioner for Systems who is responsible for the information systems and technology applications in SSA, from the Information Technology Systems Review Staff, located in the Office
of Finance, Assessment and Management, as well as from other staffs responsible for publications and forms management, security, research and other IRM-related activities.
Where is this position organizationally located?
Answer. The Senior Executive Officer is in the Office of the Commissioner, and the Office of Information Resources Management is also part of the Office of the Commissioner.
Question. Is this official in a position of sufficient authority to force compliance with agency-wide IRM goals and objectives?
Yes, the Senior Executive Officer reports directly to
Question. Does this individual have other responsibilities unrelated to his information resources responsibilities, and if so, is this appropriate given the leadership and direction needed to protect SSA's growing investment in information resources which are essential to the successful accomplishment of its mission?
Answer. The Senior Executive Officer does have other responsibilities. Day-to-day responsibility for the IRM function belongs to the Office of Information Resources Management, which also provides advice and counsel to the Senior Executive Officer and to me, as well as to other Agency officials.
The office also takes the lead on selected Agency-level initiatives, work groups and projects. However, this activity draws upon the role, knowledge and experience gained in carrying out the IRM function. These are complementary, rather than contending, activities.
Has SSA automated any new workloads in the last
Answer. The automatic enrollment for the direct deposit of benefits is currently underway. This was previously a manual workload. It is presently in the pilot stage and involves 30 financial institutions.
Release 9.0 of Debt Management provided for the automatic generation of receipts for all remittances. This was previously a manual workload.
In April 1990, the correction and reinstatement of the earnings suspense file was made available for automatic processing. This reduced the timeframe for correction and reinstatement from 3 to 6 months to 1 to 2 weeks.
The Claims Modernization Release 2.6 in July 1990 enabled field office personnel for the first time to interface directly with the Master Beneficiary Record to input changes of address, non-receipt of a benefit check, correction of name, and reports of marriage or divorce.