Over the last several years, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been faced with staffing reductions and an increased demand for services challenging its field offices to manage work while continuing to deliver quality customer service.  Now consider that the first wave of approximately 80 million baby boomers is reaching the age of retirement eligibility, and the SSA has a massive challenge ahead of it.

So how is the SSA going to manage this challenge? That’s what Congress wants to know and the Senate Finance Committee asked the U.S. Government  Accountability Office (GAO) to find out. The GAO is an  independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. The GAO investigates how the federal government spends our taxpayer dollars and has often been called the "congressional watchdog,".

The GAO’s recent report, Social Security Administration Field Offices: Reduced Workforce Faces Challenges as Baby Boomers Retire, assesses how the SSA is managing these challenges to determine:

  1. The effect that reduced staffing levels may be having on field office operations
  2. The challenges that SSA faces in meeting future service delivery needs

This statement is drawn from GAO’s ongoing study on field offices for the Committee which is expected to be issued later this year. But for now, here is what the the GAO found:

Growth in claims from the nation’s baby boomers and a retirement wave of its most experienced staff may pose serious challenges for SSA if the agency does not have a clear plan. The first wave of approximately 80 million baby boomers is reaching the age of retirement eligibility, and SSA estimates that retirement and disability filings will increase the agency’s work by approximately 1 million annual claims by 2017. To further compound this challenge, SSA projects that 44 percent of its workforce will retire by 2016. Because retirements will occur among the agency’s most experienced staff, this will have a serious impact on field offices’ institutional knowledge. SSA is planning on hiring an additional 2,350 new employees this fiscal year for regional and field office operations, almost all of whom will go to the field offices. Agency officials stated, however, that it typically takes 2 to 3 years for staff to gain the experience they need to function independently. SSA is using various strategies to recruit new employees to fill knowledge gaps. SSA is finalizing its Annual Strategic Plan which will describe the agency’s strategies for addressing these issues.

Here is a link to the full report (PDF, 26 page).

Photo above by Maya Hasson via flickr.