E-Mail From SSA Commissioner Astrue To All SSA and DDS Employees

This is a copy of an e-mail sent by Michael Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, to the employees of SSA and of DDS, an agency in each state, which makes all initial disability decisions for SSA. You might find it interesting.

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast

Sent: Friday, October 07, 2011 3:43 PM


A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees

Subject:  FY 2012 Budget

It’s hard to believe that this month is the start of my sixth fiscal year as Commissioner.

The news should be fairly familiar based on the patterns of recent years.  We are already on our second continuing resolution, which will expire November 18.  It is unlikely that our funding situation will be clear by that date; in the past five years we did not know what our budget would be until sometime between mid-December and mid-April.

This continuing resolution reduces our budget again in real dollars, and we have almost no margin for error even with a hold on hiring and IT initiatives and shifting other costs to the second half of the year.   If we continued with “business as usual” and, for instance, sent out the Earnings Statement as in past years, the postage alone require two full furlough days for every employee.

The reason for hope is that both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are calling for increases in our budget.  They are also implicitly recognizing your success in reducing our hearings backlog and are making our top priority a significant increase in program integrity work.  If the full Congress approves funding at approximately the levels recommended in the Committees, then we would be able to do close to replacement hiring in the Disability Determination Services and limited hiring in Operations and Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).

We continue to try to find ways to improve service by finding efficiencies in our processes.  We expect to launch an improved iAppeals in December and hope to reduce the field office work in this area before long.  We are launching two new Spanish on-line services in the coming weeks, along with new Public Service Announcements with Don Francisco, which I believe will be instrumental in getting us to our four-year goal of moving from 10% to 50% in on-line retirement filings.  Since we gain both operational flexibility and save about 15 minutes with each online application, it is critical to our field offices that we continue our impressive progress in this area.

Our telephone service is better than it has ever been, and I am hoping that the investments in technology and people we have made in recent years will give us the momentum we need for continued improvement.  Wait times are down for the teleservice centers, and we are effectively eliminating busy signals altogether.  Even in the field offices, we have reduced the busy rate to about 10 percent in the last few months.

By creating a new tool, the Office of Quality Performance helped Operations and ODAR clear out the entire backlog of non-DIB appeal cases.  Progress continues on the hearings backlog.  We have dropped from a high average processing time of 532 days in 2008 to 346 days last month.  No hearing office was higher than 494 days.  We still have a long way to go to hit our goal of 270 days, but with one last round of new judges and support staff, I am hopeful we will reach that goal on time.

By the way, on Monday night our spokesicon Patty Duke will be guest starring as a woman fighting Alzheimer’s on the new Hawaii Five-O.

Please savor your time with friends and family over the long weekend.

                                                            Michael J. Astrue


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2 Responses to E-Mail From SSA Commissioner Astrue To All SSA and DDS Employees

  1. Joe says:

    Thanks for the insight into SSA
    Good news in reducing backlog. I tried the “on-line” process, but kept telling me to call the toll-free number. Patty Duke is good spokeman and actress. She “acted” pretty good in one of the big-money game shows too, $64,000 Question, I think.

    • revenuer says:


      You are very welcome. I wonder if you had some hiccups with the on line process because you have an issue that needs to be handled by a Service Rep or a Claims Rep. This is nothing ominous. It just means that it might be confabulating the computer program.

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