It Could Get a Lot Harder for Social Security to Close Field Offices

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced the legislation. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced the legislation. Flickr user Senate Democrats

A bill awaiting Congress when it returns from its August recess would attempt to slow field office closures at the Social Security Administration, an agency that has shuttered more than 60 facilities in recent years.

The 2014 Social Security Access Act, introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., aims to bring more community input into the closure process. The bill would require SSA to provide 180 days’ notice to “all individuals residing in areas serviced” by any field office subject to any “reduction in access.”

In addition to the 64 field office closures, SSA has shuttered 533 temporary mobile offices since 2010.  The agency still maintains a network of 1,250 offices across the country to provide customer service to nearly 64 million Social Security recipients.

Schumer’s bill would create a public comment period and require SSA to hold at least one public hearing a month after disseminating information to constituents about an upcoming closure. The agency would have to post online and provide in writing to local members of Congress and other elected officials a range of information about the decision, including the number of SSA employees affected, the number of people who visit the office, Internet access in the region, transportation options to the next closest facility, projected cost savings and the estimated cost of co-locating with another federal agency instead of the proposed closure.

The SSA commissioner would also have to submit a report to Congress justifying the closure, and findings made as a result of the public comments or meeting.

A recent report from the congressionally chartered National Academy of Public Administration, released in conjunction with SSA, found the only viable solution for the agency going forward was to shift dramatically to digital customer service. The report stoked fears among labor groups, which said the recommendations made would result in SSA shedding 30,000 jobs.

Those concerns appear to be overstated, however.

“Lean budgets have forced us to make difficult choices and to cut back on some services,” acting SSA Commissioner Carolyn Colvin recently told a Senate committee. “However, I want to assure you that we are fully committed to providing face-to-face service to members of the public who want or need it. We recognize the importance of providing direct service to the public. We have no plans to abandon our network of field offices. They have been the hallmark of our service for almost 80 years.”

Still, the bill is “essential,” the American Federation of Government Employees stated.

“Sen. Schumer’s bill brings much-needed accountability to the Social Security Administration’s community office closings and sheds light on the impact they have on at-risk populations,” AFGE National President J. David Cox said. “This bill must be enacted before another community is deprived of vital services and the expertise of local SSA staff.”

AARP also praised the bill, calling in-person service a necessary part of the federal benefit.

“AARP applauds Sen. Schumer for recognizing that retirees often need a human hand to help them access the benefits they worked their whole lives to earn,” said Beth Finkel, state director of AARP in New York, “and for understanding the importance of protecting the system that allows older and disabled Americans to live with dignity and support their families.”

The bill would require SSA to provide Congress with its “long-term strategy” for face-to-face services and recommendations to reform the process by which offices are selected for closure. SSA already plans to issue a report on its long-term vision in October.  

(Image via Flickr user Senate Democrats)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.