Letters to the editor

SSA Stopped Info Sharing

I found the article regarding the Social Security Administration's interest in capturing death data, specifically the Social Security number from state death records, interesting ["Electronic death records 'vital' at SSA," FCW, April 1].

The Los Angeles County Department of the Coroner, which investigates about one in every three deaths that occurs in the county, had been freely sharing data with the SSA regarding deaths under the jurisdiction of the coroner for many years.

About two years ago, the "sharing" stopped. Actually, SSA stopped sharing. They now refuse to provide a deceased person's Social Security number, which could lead us to the legal next of kin so we could notify him or her of the person's death. Apparently, sharing the information violates the privacy rights of the living person. However, that person also is legally entitled to know of the death of his or her loved one.

For all intents and purposes, the Social Security number has become useless to us, a source of frustration and a point of anger for the families who are no longer notified as rapidly as before, if at all, because of this bizarre interpretation of a rule.

Sometimes the Social Security number is the best piece of information we have that can lead to more information about the legal next of kin. Not any more. The value has dropped to the point of virtual irrelevance.

If SSA is really interested in stopping the payment of benefits to those no longer entitled, they need to meet county coroners in the middle and be prepared to share data that meets the needs of both parties. We probably won't need the information in every case, but when we received it in the past, it was crucial to our success in notifying the legal next of kin. It was a win-win for SSA and for us.

Privacy laws do much good. However, privacy laws that are poorly drafted or poorly interpreted can ultimately do more harm than they were designed to prevent.

Craig Harvey Chief of Investigations, Operations Bureau Department of the Coroner Los Angeles County

Online Job Fair Difficulties

Something you may be interested in exploring is the difficulty experienced by many people in accessing the government's job fair Web site ["Applicants swarm IT job fair," FCW.com, April 29].

It took me five days to get in, then once in, it took me almost six hours to complete the process because of constant "server busy, please try later" messages and failures to load pages.

Sometimes it took more than 20 minutes to go from screen to screen. During the qualification tests, the system passed incorrect data, putting a Social Security number in the space for the e-mail address, for example.

If this had been a private-sector situation, I would have had to consider if I really wanted to work for a firm that had done such a slipshod job.

Getting 17,000 applicants over a five-day period just does not sound like that heavy a load. One must wonder how many people gave up in frustration or lacked the time necessary to get through it all.

Name withheld by request

Give Feds a Chance

I think I see the point of Milt Zall's April 22 "No more whining" column. And at times I admit I am amused at the level of rhetoric the American Federation of Government Employees is willing to reach.

But consider that the 1990 Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act was not an employee development plan nor even an employee evaluation report — both of those potentially being optimistic estimates of what could be done for an employee. FEPCA told the federal workforce that an effort toward parity would be made. It has since been revised so that the federal government's commitment to it could be reduced without penalty.

I think AFGE has a right to discuss the differential publicly; I myself consider it a breach of faith.

What I do not understand is how you jump from AFGE pointing to this issue to the conclusion that federal employees do not know how to find jobs. It is common for bystanders to observe that much federal labor is unnecessary.

However, a few years ago, Congress significantly underestimated the importance of keeping the government at work and couldn't even get through a weekend without constituents demanding that services be restored.

I believe that although the federal government has both positive and negative features, the country needs to provide its employees not with a copy of the want ads, but a reason not to start reading them.

Rod Morgan Gaithersburg, Md.

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