SSA suggestion box: Better online tools, watch for biased judges

The Social Security Administration should develop an online calculator for helping users calculate their “ideal” retirement years, study if judges who preside over disputes with the SSA are biased, and stream video on the SSA website, according to suggestions to the agency.

Those are among the 10 top ideas for improvement and eight most frequent information requests submitted to the SSA from its customers, the agency said in two documents recently published on the SSA’s Open Government Web page.

The recent documents are “Top Ideas from the Dialogue” and “Website Information Requests.”

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The SSA said it collected the suggestions in an online dialogue with the public using the IdeaScale application, “OpenSocialSecurity.” Users were able to submit ideas and to view and vote on other people’s ideas. The top ideas and most frequent requests were those that received the most votes or mentions.

The most popular idea submitted was for streaming video to be made available on the SSA website to to help people who prefer video to reading. SSA officials said they agreed and were considering it.

Other ideas that the SSA said it is considering include releasing real-time data on anticipated wait times at regional offices, webcasting more live meetings, and developing the online calculator so users can determine their ideal retirement dates.

Other users want the SSA to begin releasing information on how many beneficiaries of SSA or Medicare benefits have paid taxes into those systems. “We are exploring this idea to determine if we can adopt it. We will report back to you on our progress,” the SSA responded.

An SSA employee wrote a detailed suggestion that was one of the top vote getters in the dialogue. The worker said the SSA ought to regularly disclose staffing numbers for all SSA field offices, telephone service centers, payment centers and support components, and how staff numbers have changed over time at each facility.

“We need to be up front with the public about general staffing and service issues as the baby boom generation continues to increase workload demands on an agency that has largely had stagnant staffing over the last 30 years,” the employee wrote.

The agency responded  with links to four websites that provide SSA staffing information.

Another popular idea was to include a live chat feature in the SSA online application website. Officials responded that they are preparing to debut a “Click-to-Communicate” suite of applications including “Click-to-Talk,” instant messaging and screen sharing, starting in 2012 and 2013.

Of the 10 top suggestions from the public, SSA officials said they had implemented, or were planning to implement, four of them.

One ideas received an outright “no.” The idea was to tax retirement benefits, but SSA officials said that was not possible under the law.

Another idea was to study whether administrative judges are biased in adjudicating claims against the SSA.

“We have decided not to conduct the suggested study,” the SSA responded. The agency has longstanding procedures to investigate bias. In addition, the SSA said it recently established a “new system of records that provides us with a centrally managed, automated way to collect, monitor, and retrieve information concerning complaints of bias or misconduct. The database will facilitate timely documentation, monitoring, and tracking of complaints.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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