Federal Manager's Daily Report

New commissioner suggests decision to end telework was hasty and that he ordered 1,100 new hires - unions say more are needed to make a dent in workload.

Recently installed SSA commissioner Andrew Saul has said his main management initiatives at the 60,000-employee agency are aimed at “getting more employees back into the offices” that provide front-line service to the public, including plans to increase employment if the budget allows.

In a message to the public, Saul–a longtime financial industry executive who at one time headed the TSP’s governing board—said that “my plan is to emphasize and restore fundamental public service so that when you call us, we answer timely. When you come to our offices, we serve you timely. When you apply for benefits, you receive a timely answer from us and, if you are approved for benefits, you receive a timely check from us.”

He acknowledged that “some SSA employees and the three unions who represent them may suggest we simply want to push employees even harder” but said that in his meeting with SSA employees, “they dread the feeling of coming into work knowing the public will line up and wait far too long for correct answers. That is demoralizing.”

The message refers to the recently imposed hiring freeze in headquarters positions, saying it will free up personnel slots for “sending our resources to the front lines where you benefit most . . . Dependent on our final appropriation for fiscal year 2020, we are targeting additional hiring in these public service offices, and I have already directed that SSA hire 1,100 more people to do this work.”

He also mentioned the agency’s move to end effective November 22 a telework program in which more than 10,000 employees participated, saying it “was implemented without necessary controls or data collection to evaluate effectiveness or impact on public service. I support work-life balance for SSA employees consistent with meeting our first obligation: to serve the public. A time of workload crisis is not the time to experiment with working at home, especially for the more than 40,000 employees who staff our public facing offices.” Another involves reversing the policy of closing offices for part of the day on Wednesdays.

However, the AFGE union said that “by revoking telework and dedicated time [on Wednesdays] to remove the claims backlog, SSA will drive away talented employees, worsen the customer experience, and grind our productivity to a halt.” It added that with about 1,200 offices, a 1,100-employee increase would amount to about one per office, which “would hardly make a dent in SSA’s ability to handle its current workload.”