The pandemic caused a surge of calls to most federal agency call centers even as those centers had to adapt to employees working from home, an audit by the inspector general’s office at the SSA has found.
During a study of the SSA’s phone service, the IG collected data on 13 other federal agency call centers, finding that volume increased at nine—most notably at the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration, where the number increased by more than six-fold last June over June 2019.
Calls about doubled to Labor’s office of public affairs and to the IRS, and were up by about two-thirds at Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Postal Service. Calls decreased at two VA centers, the Education Department and Citizenship & Immigration Services.
At SSA, volume increased by 28 percent, mostly consisting of calls to field offices, in part because the agency “shared field office general telephone numbers not previously available so the public could contact employees at the local level for service during business hours.” It found that some metrics improved, including that fewer callers received busy signals, “because additional field office employees were available to answer calls since SSA limited in-person service in field offices.”
There were slightly fewer calls to the central 800 number and fewer of those resulted in busy signals but auditors attributed that in part to a reduction of the available hours from 12 hours a day to 9.5, a reduction that remains in place.
The report added that the SSA did not collect customer feedback on their experiences with calling since it “did not use post-call surveys for field office calls and turned off this feature for the national 800-number.”