Over the past few years, Social Security has made a clear effort to become more transparent and connect with a broader spectrum of clients. One of the ways Social Security hopes to do this is through its new audio series, SSA Talks. In the inaugural episode, Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, and Janet Walker, Associate Commissioner for Operational Human Resources Services, discuss Social Security’s priority hiring initiative and strategies for success. Staffing levels have long been a cause for concern at both the federal and local state agency levels. With this push for hire, Dr. Kijakazi hopes to rectify some of the common customer services issues.
The scope of Social Security
Each year, the Social Security Administration provides services to millions of Americans nationwide. While the number of services provided does change year-over-year, last year alone, representatives at the Social Security Administration helped:
- 13 million individuals receive services as visitors at a local field office;
- Answer 69 million phone calls;
- Process 10 million claims for benefits, and
- Issue 16 million new or replacement Social Security cards.
Despite the seemingly impressive numbers, there are gaps in customer service that impact all areas of the business. This includes lengthy wait times for disability applications, long hold times for telephone inquiries, and packed lobby areas for those seeking in-person services. The current hiring initiative is central to improving customer service across the board.
The current state and expected improvement
Over the last decade, hiring challenges faced by Social Security have been driven by constrained budgets. Unfortunately, this occurred during a time period when Social Security gained 8 million new beneficiaries, only furthering the burden on resources. Pre-pandemic attrition, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation, resulted in Social Security having the lowest level of employees in the last 25 years – about 56,000.
While staffing is now at about 57,000, the agency plans to hire 4,000 new employees and replace departing staff. With it taking up to two years for new staffers to become fully trained, it will take time for hiring to meaningful impact results. Even still, Social Security is expecting improvement in 2023, with 50,000 more retirement claims filed, 130,000 more initial disability claims processed, and two million more phone calls answered over last year.
In addition to the staffing challenges at Social Security offices, Disability Determination Services (DDS) retention has presented challenges to effective claim adjudication. And although technology and automation can help, that can only go so far, as representatives are needed to answer calls, process applications, and conduct interviews, among other responsibilities.
Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi remains hopeful about the state of the Social Security Administration but has been firm in her need for Congressional allocations to help support hiring costs. Of the funding currently allocated, most only supports the fixed costs of running the agency. Without the $15.5 billion that President Biden requested for next year, Social Security will be unable to make the necessary improvements. Leading the way in implementing these changes is Janet Walker, head of the newly established office for centralized Human Resources services. These advancements include:
- Reimagining the Human Resources organization by creating a robust central network of highly trained Human Resources professionals to recruit, hire, and retain Social Security employees.
- Implementing a premier agency-wide Human Resources service model ensuring timely service and policy compliance.
- Focusing on key challenges like recovering from hiring freezes and employee training.
- Addressing challenges in recruiting, noting that, like other employers across the country, Social Security is experiencing challenges with attracting candidates.
- Expanding recruiting efforts to include different channels, including social media and job fairs.
This new avenue of providing information to the public is an exciting choice by Social Security. As they look to reach new audiences and expand their reach, we will continue to monitor any developments that arise. These hiring initiatives will directly impact those currently filing for or receiving benefits, so if you should you have any questions about the current hiring initiatives or any other Social Security-related inquiry, please reach out to Brown & Brown directly or contact your local Social Security field office.
You can find a full transcript of the episode here.