A plan to close Social Security field offices and outsource its work

I ran across this in my travels — anything by Richard Eskow is always worth a read — and this one’s a doozy.

The rumors you may have heard that all Social Security field offices will be closed and the work outsourced — those rumors are apparently true, according to a draft plan produced for the Social Security Administration itself by a Pete Peterson–connected private group. As you’ll see below, Congress forced the SSA to get the report from this group. But the SSA isn’t fighting it.

Nothing’s decided yet, but no one at the SSA is putting up a fuss. Is the writing on the wall? Sure looks like it. Explanation below; to jump right to what you can do, click here.

For the details, here’s Eskow. I’ll give you his main point and highlight a few side points, but please, do read it through. You need to see all of this to really get the depth of the wrong about to be done. (My emphasis throughout.)

A Secret Plan to Close Social Security’s Offices and Outsource Its Work

social security logoFor months there have been rumors that the Social Security Administration has a “secret plan” to close all of its field offices. Is it true? A little-known report commissioned by the SSA the request of Congress seems to hold the answer. The summary document outlining the plan, which is labeled “for internal use only,” is unavailable from the SSA but can be found here.

Does the document, entitled “Long Term Strategic Vision and Vision Elements,” really propose shuttering all field offices? The answer, buried beneath a barrage of obfuscatory consultantese, clearly seems to be “yes.” Worse, the report also suggests that many of the SSA’s critical functions could soon be outsourced to private-sector partners and contractors.

Here are five insights from this austerity-minded outline. …

Your neoliberal privatizers at work. This is a Democratic administration, remember, with another one (also neoliberal) presumably on the way.

How do we know this is true?

The draft report is four pages, and Eskow has analyzed it. His telling comment is this:

It is not until the final page that the bomb is dropped, surrounded by a cloud of verbal decoys. The key phrase: “Our communication and business practices enable a dispersed workforce that is no longer working in centralized, traditional offices.”

“Centralized, traditional offices.” Or, as the rest of the world calls them, “offices.”

The document suggests that Social Security’s administrative functions will be transferred online, allowing for human contact only “in very limited circumstances.” Even in those cases it appears that the default options will be telephone calls and online chats, together with rare meetings with personnel who may be housed in the offices of other agencies – or, conceivably, private corporations.

Read the report for yourself and decide (pdf).

Here’s a quick view of Eskow’s five insights:

1. This is death by jargon.

This section of Eskow’s piece is a good read by itself. If a fantastically popular program like the SSA is going to commit hara-kiri to please the privatizers, the planning has to be impenetrable. Read Eskow for examples of that language.

2. The SSA isn’t resisting [C]ongress’ brutal cuts.

Will Hillary Clinton close Social Security offices like Obama wants to? Ask her.

Will Hillary Clinton close Social Security offices like Obama wants to? Ask her.

Despite the fact that a Democratic president is running the executive branch, the Social Security Administration appears to be accepting the harsh budget cuts imposed upon it by Congress with an air of surprising passivity. This is puzzling. Social Security is an enormously successful and popular program. Historically only conservative Republicans have urged cuts to its administrative budget. Those cuts are already frustrating the public and undermining public confidence in the program. …

The fact that neither the SSA, the administration, nor the president himself are publicly fighting these brutal cuts is a betrayal of Social Security’s promise. That betrayal is made even more acute by the fact that cuts to Social Security’s administrative budgets do not help the deficit in any way, since the SSA is fully funded from Social Security’s revenues.

And do note the last — there’s zero budget benefit to closing offices, though Congress is apparently forcing that squeeze anyway. But why not resist? Mr. Obama is doing it, or allowing it, because he wants to.

3. They intend to do more outsourcing, too.

One of the bitter ironies of the bipartisan austerity craze has been the fact that, while there has been an assault on government jobs, there has been an equal or greater push to transfer government revenues to the private sector using lucrative, cost-inflating “privatization” contracts.

That seems to be what somebody has in mind for Social Security’s future, too. One of the 29 “vision elements” in the Vision 2025 document states that service delivery should be “integrated across SSA programs and with external partners …” It goes on to state that all support functions for SSA should be “provided through a shared services model (e.g., within SSA, across government, and by contract).”

Chicago parking meters, anyone?

4. They expect people to do everything on the Internet – and their website is terrible.

Forget the bad website. What’s the least likely generation to be Internet-savvy? Yep.

The fifth point — I won’t quote it here — is equally cogent and equally striking. Please do read.

The plan’s authors, NAPA, is a Pete Peterson–connected operation

As if the plan weren’t bad enough, the Social Security Administration asked, or paid, a Pete Peterson–connected group to write it. For example, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), the presumably-paid authors of the plan to close SS field offices, received $800,000 to host a 2009 Pete Peterson— created project called “Budgetball”:

WASHINGTON, DC (June 15, 2009) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner congratulated participants in yesterday’s Budgetball Tournament on the National Mall, a demonstration of fiscal fitness in the federal government’s front yard. The team from the University of Miami triumphed over seven other teams to win the top prize; the team from Philander Smith College was the runner-up.

Fiscal policymakers representing the Treasury Department, other federal agencies, think tanks and Congress faced off against the college students in the exhibition tournament. Players included David Walker, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and former U.S. Comptroller General, and Robert Reischauer, President of the Urban Institute and former Director of the Congressional Budget Office. …

Budgetball is a team sport similar to Ultimate Frisbee and designed to build awareness, especially among young people, about the nation’s growing financial challenges and the trade-offs involved in solving them. Today’s tournament was hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration, which helped design the game, and by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which supported its development.

NAPA has its feet in both the government and Peterson camps:

About the National Academy of Public Administration:

The National Academy of Public Administration is a non-profit, independent coalition of top public management and organizational leaders that tackles the nation’s most critical and complex challenges. With a network of more than 600 distinguished Fellows and an experienced professional staff, the National Academy is uniquely qualified and trusted across government to provide objective advice and practical solutions based on systematic research and expert analysis. Established in 1967 and chartered by Congress, the National Academy continues to make a positive impact by helping federal, state and local governments respond effectively to current circumstances and changing conditions.

“Objective advice”? “Uniquely trusted”? To do what? (By the way, the $800,000 number paid to NAPA for Budgetball comes from page 37 of this Peterson document.)

It looks like NAPA was singled out by Congress for this task. From the last congressional conference committee report of the 2011 Consolidated Appropriations Act:

Independent SSA Resource Analysis and Strategy.–With a large percentage of SSA’s workforce eligible for retirement, and [congressionally-created] short- and long-term constraints on available resources, the conferees are concerned that SSA faces continued service delivery challenges in the coming decades. Therefore, the conferees provide SSA with up to $500,000 to contract with the National Academy of Public Administration to develop and submit a report proposing a long-range strategic plan for SSA’s consideration. This report shall be conducted in consultation with SSA and its stakeholders and address the following: an evaluation of SSA’s existing organizational structure, workforce capacity, physical infrastructure and review of SSA’s electronic service delivery and investment in automation and information technology. The report shall be submitted within 180 days of enactment to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance.

There are still many questions. How did this group get picked — i.e., who in Congress or in the conference committee added this language? (It would almost have to be a bipartisan effort, right?)

And why in god’s earth isn’t SSA pushing back, unless these goals are shared at the high levels of the Social Security Administration itself? Finally, we know Bill Clinton is a Pete Peterson fan, and Obama is a fan of benefit cuts. But shouldn’t he be helping out? Or is he in on it too?

Your neoliberal Democrats at work

I’m going with “bipartisan effort” and “he’s in on it too” until proven otherwise. Which points the finger squarely at neoliberal Dems, who are running the joint, at least in the executive branch.

Yes, the Republicans may be worse, in the sense that they’ll shoot you faster with a bigger gun, then laugh as you die. The Democrats take you down with many small knife wounds among the pistol shots, and then pretend to care that you’re suffering. Better? Your call.

I get the argument for defeating Republicans. But the Democrats that strategy enables must also be stopped. Care to start somewhere? Start here — ActBlue makes the anti-Clinton case in a piece called “Why Settle?” The time to not settle is now, before the cement is dry.

How to stop this

Eskow again:

The American Federation of Government Employees [AFGE] is currently on a campaign that encourages people to register their objections to this troubling plan.

Join AFGE by clicking the link and learning about the pushback, especially if this touches you directly.

And for one-click responding, sign this CREDO petition. Thanks!


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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