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!


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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47 Responses to “A plan to close Social Security field offices and outsource its work”

  1. Carol says:

    Still use human cashiers at grocery. Like the human contact and like to support the jobs that go with the human contact. And we’ve already privatized too much-think war. We need to be very, very careful what we accept as private. It usually means someone has figured out how to make BIG bucks with less service!

  2. Bill_Perdue says:

    I wasn’t really talking about elections, which have little to do with change besides verifying the extent of the growth of mass movements, but with building mass movements for change. In Seattle socialists did win a seat and are using it as a forum for education and further organization of left unionists, low paid workers and unemployed workers.

    Nowhere do socialists rely on elections – we rely on the growth and power of grass roots groups that can fight for, demand and get change.

  3. AndyinChicago says:

    Our city council is huge and drowns out the very few progressive candidates that make it in. Unfortunately, labor and the left really don’t have a foot in yet.

  4. Bill_Perdue says:

    I’m sure he can’t be beaten. Mrs. O’leary and her cow still vote for the machine candidate.

    What might happen is a that a labor and left group independent of the Machine and the Republicans might emerge out of the fight for union recognition at Walmart and McDonald’s type operations. That’s what happened in Seattle and what’s being repeated in Boston, SF, LA. etc.

  5. AndyinChicago says:

    Yeah, it’d be nice to see Rahm taken out, but he’s raised a ridiculous amount of money (Mainly from outside the city) and does not have a credible opponent (We’re waiting for Toni Preckwinkle here) yet, so let’s not assume he’s going to be taken out of power yet. Rahm’s been awful, nobody likes him (Least of all me), but for many, he’s seen as the inevitable winner of the next elections.

  6. rmthunter says:

    Ditto. I enrolled online, went very smoothly, took almost no time at all, and my benefits were in the bank when they were supposed to be.

  7. Moderator3 says:

    By hitting the edit button, you can erase a comment.

  8. nicho says:

    Snark noted.

  9. JosephP says:

    Yes I realized that after I left my comment. I even tried to delete my comment after I read your article more closely, but somehow I was unable to delete it.

    Thanks again for all your work.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    There aren’t any Democrat politicians who aren’t Republican politicians. Or if there they’re in the wrong party. Neither of those parties will be be instruments for change unless it’s change for the worse.

  11. emjayay says:

    “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.”

    WTF? We have to spend a lot of taxpayer dollars to run a pretend sport on the Mall so young people find out about something they should have learned in class or by reading something? How does that work? Were the financial challenges and trade-offs printed on each Frisbe? Why not invent a Budgetball video game and give it away for free, along with a gaming console? Better yet, buy a million Mercedes with the nation’s growing financial challenges and the trade-offs involved in solving them permanently listed on dashboard and lit by LEDs.

  12. emjayay says:

    Their website worked fine and the checks are electronic. So between those two things they obviously need far less people to do the job than they did for the first 60 years. I did want to talk to a human at one point.
    The local office had a wait of several hours after checking in. checking in for an appointment was by using a terminal located on the front wall where you do not see it on entering. There were no signs anywhere about checking in. I was directed to i by an extremely nasty security guard, the only employee to be seen. The room had about ten empty windows around it with no employees – the room was built for about three times more employees talking to people than they actually had. Assuming this was typical of SS offices since

  13. ComradeRutherford says:

    Remember, everyone, The Clintons and Obama are NOT Democrats! They are Moderate Republicans masquerading as Dems. They will eagerly transfer YOUR wealth in the Social Security trust fund into the offshore coffers of their beloved hedge fund managers just as fast as the GOP is going to do it.

    So it really makes no difference if you vote for Hillary of [Insert Name of Fascist Republican], we will inevitably wind up in the same place anyway.

  14. emjayay says:

    Hmmmm….I was getting NYS unemployment last year and I was almost never able to talk to a human except for sometimes after being on hold for a half an hour. I don’t have time right now to write a short story recounting calls where I went though 20 layers of voice mail hell in order to get to a “call back some other time.”

  15. emjayay says:

    I would suggest moving to a country with a parliamentary system, or another planet if that isn’t good for you. The Constitutional system we have is the one we have. We don’t have another one. Or meanwhile, think of how to improve the system and campaign for that.

  16. Bill_Perdue says:

    Rahm, aided by Obama and his head of the Dept. of Education, Arne Duncan mad a major effort to bust the Chicago teachers unions. They failed and in the process a large anti-Rahm grouping coalesced in the labor movement.

    Failing in his union busting effort Rahm is implementing major and racist cuts in school spending in areas heavily populated by people of color.

    Following the lead of socialists in Seattle and other west coast cities, a movement is growing in Chicago for a decent minimum wage. “Huge Chicago Vote – 87 Percent Vote for a $15-an-Hour Wage Polls have since confirmed that Americans from across the political and ideological spectrum are overwhelmingly in favor of a substantial increase in the minimum wage. And election results are now confirming the sentiment. … voters in Sea-Tac, Washington, approved a $15 hourly wage, while voters in Seattle elected socialist Kshama Sawant on a “Fight for $15” platform.

    Now comes a powerful signal from Chicago. When voters in the city went to the polls to cast ballots in the Tuesday’s statewide and local primary elections, thousands of them faced an economic question: Would they support a $15-an-hour minimum wage for large employers in the city? The results were overwhelming. With 100 of the 103 precincts where the issue was on the ballot reporting, 87 percent of voters were backing the $15-an-hour wage. Just 13 percent voted against the advisory referendum.

    I hate that cold wind off Lake Michigan but I’d like to be there next fall to see Rahm and Obama get taken down a polticial notch or two.

  17. Bill_Perdue says:

    The Bill Clinton regime marked a turning point in consciousness concerning the role of the Democrat Party. All of Clintons legislative wins – NAFTA, DOMA, DADT, gutting welfare and the deregulation acts of 1999 and 2000 that directly created

  18. Elijah Shalis says:

    This is awful and I would not trust a private company with my social security number in this day and age. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

  19. Kenster999 says:

    Will these external, third-party contractors/partners commit to earning less profit than the SSA’s current overhead? Otherwise, it’s going to be more expensive for us.

  20. nicho says:

    I will not vote for, or donate to, any candidate or party that does not oppose this openly and vehemently.

  21. GaiusPublius says:

    Hi Joseph,

    I appreciate all of your comments. Just a quibble with this one though. The decision to hire NAPA was written into the law. We’re still trying to chase down who got the language inserted. It occurred in the conference committee.

    Check the paragraph in my piece that starts, “It looks like NAPA” …

    The fact that SSA isn’t fighting this, at least so far, is telling though. This really has a lot of people in the “no cuts” community up in arms. Stay tuned.


  22. vickif says:

    I’ve been on SS for 7 years now. I did do my application form on the website but I still had to go to the local office for several reasons. I had an appointment and things went very smoothly. One of the best things they did was direct deposit. The company I worked for before my retirement used direct deposit for our paychecks.. So I was glad my SS check is also. The money is there every month on time and I don’t have to worry about the weather or other reasons to go to the bank. It just makes me so mad that the repugs want to take SS away from everyone.

  23. Indigo says:

    Their website works fine.

  24. Indigo says:

    Voting for the lesser of two evils is just voting as usual, at least on this planet.

  25. Indigo says:

    Same here. I haven’t had a problem yet.

  26. Indigo says:

    Because if it’s working, no one will support shutting it down. So let’s break it! Conservatism’s finest moment.

  27. caphillprof says:

    Several years ago my sister and I had to take our 91 year old mother to the local Social Security office. We discovered a problem when she was denied a state ID renewal because “there’s a problem with her Social Security records.” It turned out that when Social Security had digitized their records, the digitizer had entered her birth year as 1968 rather than as the correct 1918. We had a hard enough time getting the local Social Security office to correct the error. I hate to think what would be required online.

  28. caphillprof says:

    Voting for the lesser of two evils is a sure way to disaster.

  29. nicho says:

    A free choice is a choice between two acceptable alternatives or among several acceptable options. US elections do not fit into that category. It’s pretty much like choosing airline meals (in the old days, when they served meals). You could have the “chicken” or you could have the “beef.” They both sucked.

  30. JosephP says:

    I’m not saying there was any alternative to Obama in 2012—as Al Gore said, elections are a choice, not a referendum. But the lesser of two evils is still evil.

  31. JosephP says:

    You are correct. By characterizing the SSA’s actions as a passive response to Congressional direction, Eskow is allowing the SSA the cover that they are seeking. But the decision to hire a Pete Peterson group was certainly never considered in Congress. This was an internal decision of the Executive Branch alone, which is ostensibly headed by a Democrat, Barack Obama. There is no “Congress made me do it” cover.

  32. Houndentenor says:

    I had to deal with NY State Unemployment briefly after 9/11. If only my credit card, cable, internet and other for-profit providers had such service. the only problem was trying to call in on Mondays (too many calls). As you often get a fast busy (as in lines backed up) trying to call Verizon most of the time (Verizon doesn’t have enough lines? Really?) that’s still better than what the private sector offers. I know there was a time when the private sector did a better job with customer service than the government agencies, but that was when the private sector cared about keeping the business of small customers. Now they don’t. (Most of the time they know you have nowhere else to go since they have created near-monopolies for themselves.

  33. BlueIdaho says:

    Anyone who thinks the SSA website is terrible, just hasn’t used it. I turned 62 in March so I began the application process in December. I did it all online without ever having to leave my home or speak to anyone on the phone. Shortly, thereafter my application was approved and I was sent a determination letter. I received my first direct deposit in April. It couldn’t have been any smoother for me anyway.

  34. Ford Prefect says:

    Eskow would be more believable as a defender of SS if he wasn’t committing the sin of omission in his work (one tiny, if typical example):

    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.

    Um, no it’s not! Do the Dems have the Majority in the Senate? Hasn’t Obama made it blisteringly clear he wants to privatize SS? Hasn’t the Dem leadership in congress been only too helpful in this regard, prior to realizing it’s another election cycle?

    Yes, they’re going to get it done one way or the other. On the day the looting is completed, Eskow will be mightily puzzled indeed! More importantly though, his puzzlement also helps Democrats avoid responsibility for their craven misdeeds. He believes the Democrats are something they are not: defenders of the New Deal. He is a fool to believe so and we all get to pay for such foolishness.

  35. JosephP says:

    Hiring a Pete Peterson-connected group to write a report on Social Security outsourcing is like hiring the NRA to do a report on gun control.

    Who was responsible for the decision to hire this group? It’s clear that whoever is responsible is actively looking for ways to undermine Social Security. And it’s also clear that this comes from The Top.

  36. Houndentenor says:

    This will cost more and be a huge problem. A lot of poor people don’t have internet access and a lot of elderly people (like my mom) have never been onine. Also, outsourcing almost always costs more. It’s done to give lucrative contracts to campaign donors or to get around work rules (like for janitorial staff. Those Russian women cleaning offices in Manhattan are paid by the job, not by the hour and sometimes make less than minimum wage. If you’ve ever had the giant inflatable rat in front of you’re building, that’s what’s going on where you work.)

  37. JosephP says:

    Excellent work by Richard Eskow! And thank you so much Gaius for publicizing this secret report. I do like John and his posts, but you and your reporting are main reasons I read Americablog.

  38. lynchie says:

    Well I guess O’Highness couldn’t kill SS by remodeling the format because even the GOP are shit scared of pissing off all the old white base would not vote for it. This is his new plan turn it over to private enterprise cause we all know how well business treat customer service, computer glitches and the like. They will bleed all the money out of SS and finally they will have their wish it will simply become a massive IRA fund run by Wall Street and all the billions in SS will end up where it belongs back in the hands of the 1%. Employer contributions will be discontinued and the world will become a happy place for the executives of Goldman Sachs, Chase, et al. Their future bonuses will be guara fucking teed and no one will have to sue if their $8 million bonus is deemed to little.

  39. gratuitous says:

    Well, that’s gotta change, because Pete Peterson doesn’t make any money when that happens. So let’s privatize the assistance, and pay for it out of the savings (i.e., earned benefits that would otherwise be paid to citizens) from benefit denials. Win for Pete, win for the politicians he bankrolls, big lose for everyone else, but whatcha gonna do?

  40. jomicur says:

    But that satanic Romney would have been much more worser. He would have…er…done something so bad that…um…er…um… Vote for Hillary!!! Yay!!! Whichever Republican runs against her will be much more worser. He will…um…er…um…well, just you wait and see!

  41. jomicur says:

    Agreed. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m disabled, and I applied for SS disability benefits through their website several years ago. The process couldn’t have gone more smoothly or more quickly. I worked for Social Security for three years after college, and it used to take three months or more for a disability claim to be processed; mine was approved in under six weeks. I imagine being familiar with their guidelines and procedures helped me get through the application process quickly and easily, but everything on the website was clear and straightforward, and it’s hard to imagine anyone with even minimal computer skills having problems.

  42. nicho says:

    But this is the neo-liberal playbook. You take money away from agencies, etc. Then, their customer service falters due to lack of funds. Then, you point and say “See, big government can’t do it. We need to privatize it.”

    We saw — and are still seeing it — with public schools. We’re seeing it with the US Postal Service. And now, they’re setting their sights on Social Security.

    Good thing we elected “Lesser of two evils” Obama. he’s out there fighting tooth and nail to oppose this. Wait — what? Oh, never mind, but surely Democrats in Congress are up in arms, talking about this non-stop. What — what? Oh, never mind, but Hillary will save us. She doesn’t want to see Social Security privatized. Wait — what — 1995? Monica? Oh, never mind. But surely Fox News — whose main demographic will be severely impacted by this — is leading the fight against it. Wait- what? Oh, never mind. We’re screwed.

  43. I just came back from a job fair in which the local employment office, called Career Link, has a rep. He told me to apply to the federal government for the many openings in Social Security offices. Therefore, the lament that there are not enough works, while true, is bogus to think that they won’t find any. I volunteer!

  44. nicho says:

    I agree. Both SS and Medicare customer service is excellent.

  45. 2patricius2 says:

    What could possibly go wrong with this plan? Hmm?

    I have had nothing but positive experiences with Social Security and Medicare workers, both on the phone, and in person. The people who have helped me have been very knowledgeable and friendly and helpful. I told that to one of the workers the last time I went to a Social Security office to get information. She was grateful for my comments.

  46. AndyinChicago says:

    I also disliked the website, but I’m glad someone’s taking this fight. I live in Chicago, where our mayor has been the king of closing public resources and outsourcing at a higher cost. I’m sick of Rahm as mayor, and to see people constantly thinking like him elsewhere is upsetting.

  47. GarySFBCN says:

    I agree with almost everything except this one small quibble: Their website isn’t terrible. No, it is GREAT.

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