In a report whose work largely predated the closing of SSA field offices except for exceptional cases due to the pandemic, the agency’s IG has said that the demand for in-person customer service has increased, in part due to impersonation scams.
The report’s findings could figure in long-run decisions regarding office staffing, telework and related policies not only at SSA but at other agencies such as the IRS that similarly provide face to face service—and which like SSA have worked for years to drive more such transactions online while meanwhile being increasingly targeted by scams.
The report cited agency statements “that imposter scam calls have increased the number of walk-in visitors and telephone calls to field offices” and meanwhile the agency had to initiate more in-person meetings in order to “verify identity for some internet claims submissions.” Although numbers are not precise, the IG previously reported estimated that response to imposter scams consumes the workyear equivalent of 100 employees.
It said that in 2019, the SSA had 43.3 million field office visits, of which the average wait time per visitor was 24.8 minutes and 4.2 million visitors had wait times of more than an hour. In contrast, in 2010 there were 45.4 million visits with an average wait of 19.4 minutes and 2.3 million waited more than an hour. Field office staffing fell from just above 30,000 to a low of 27,000 in 2017 before rising back to nearly 27,600 over that period; the number of offices fell from 1,289 to 1,227.
The report meanwhile noted that just before offices were generally closed early this year and the large part of its workforce put on telework, the SSA had reinstated public visiting hours previously cut back due to budget restrictions and at the same time had reduced the availability of telework. “We intend to analyze productivity and other effects of telework from data related to the COVID-19 response and from prior telework pilots in future audits,” the IG said.