Top Ideas from the OpenSocialSecurity IdeaScale dialogue

We used our idea-sharing tool, "OpenSocialSecurity," to capture your ideas for creating our Open Government Plan. We received many ideas on how we could increase our transparency, participation, collaboration and innovation.

The list below represents the top ten ideas you submitted to us, ranked by number of votes (for clarity purposes, some of the titles have been changed). We wanted to share this collection with you, and plan to periodically report the progress of these and future ideas we receive.

Idea 1: Add streaming videos to SSA.Gov about SSA topics.

“Add streaming videos about SSA topics. This may reduce the amount of calls made to the 800# and visits to the field offices. Also some people learn better by watching a video rather than reading.”

Idea Status: We agree streaming videos would offer another valuable way to communicate with the public.

We are looking into developing additional videos on select Social Security topics for publication on our website and other appropriate venues.

In the meantime, you can visit the following SSA multimedia resources:

Idea 2: Live Chat Service for Internet Retirement Applications

“It would be nice if a person had the option to chat with someone online while they complete their retirement and/or disability application. This would not only reduce visits to the field offices, it would improve our customer service to the public.”

Idea Status: We are currently planning to develop and implement a suite of web support services we refer to as Click-to-Communicate (C2C). This suite of services includes web support features such as Click-to-Talk, Screen Sharing, and Instant Messaging.

The use of instant messaging will introduce more complex changes to SSA’s current business processes than the click-to-talk feature.  We plan to implement click-to-talk first because we can put the application in place much faster than the instant messaging feature.

At this time, the National 800 Number Network (N8NN) is being transitioned to the new CARE Through 2020 solution, which is a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) platform.  The CARE Through 2020 solution includes technology that is required to incorporate the C2C web support tools (e.g., Click-to-Talk, Screen Sharing and Instant Messaging “web chat”) with the N8NN business processes.  We foresee the first steps toward implementation in FY 2013-2014.

Idea 3: Place for General Concerns about SSA Services

“We should have a place so that we can easily send concerns and praise about services in general.”

Idea Status: The compliments and complaints links continue to be available on our web site.

Idea 4: Increase Public Awareness of SSD/SSI Claims Process

“I used to work in private non-profit mental health services, and there is a lot of "mystery" about the disability application process from the public perspective.  I think that Social Security needs to do more public outreach activities directed at providers and applicants to answer basic questions about the disability application process.”

Idea Status: We agree that increasing outreach regarding our disability application process would be a valuable public service. We are identifying potential outreach activities, including informational videos, about this topic.

Idea 5: SSA should live webcast all meetings

“SSA should live webcast all meetings for proposed rule making and regulations. By doing this the public and stakeholders will be able to see the inner workings of the rule making process and make the content and proceedings transparent to the public."

Idea Status: As part of SSA’s rule making process, we hold public hearings. We do broadcast some of these meetings as appropriate.

We invite the public to comment on developing rules before they become final. Please visit, Regulations.Gov for further information.

Idea 6: Measuring whether cognitive bias impacts ALJ decisions

“Social Security should consider whether to study the effect of cognitive bias on Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) in making fair and fiscally sound benefit decisions.”

Idea Status: We have decided not to conduct the suggested study.  We take allegations of bias by our adjudicators seriously, and we have longstanding procedures under which we investigate claimants’ complaints of bias or misconduct against our administrative law judges (ALJ).   In addition, we 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.

Idea 7: Public Forum

“Provide us an area where we can communicate our concerns about SSA, and ensure the information will be shared with the President.”

Idea Status: To express your comments directly to Social Security, you may:

  1. Submit suggestions, complaints, or compliments
  2. Contact your local Field Office
  3. Call our National 800 Number Telephone Services
  4. Send mail

To reach the White House directly, please visit their contact page to share your questions or concerns.

Idea 8: Transparency (Data on SSA Offices)

“I work at Social Security.  I think we need to be transparent about:

  • Total number of offices that exist, how many have been closed and consolidated and the percentage of staff working in direct field public service.
  • Total number of  tele-service centers there are, the amount of staff employed, and the goals of these facilities
  • Total number of payment centers, how many employees are staffed there, what percentage of time they are employed in phone answering and their goals and critical missions
  • Total number of support components and how many employees are devoted to non-public contact functions and/or operational and administrative support.

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.”

Idea Status: To view statistics on our Social Security Operations, you may follow the links below.

Field Office Statistics

There are currently 1,243 field offices across 10 regions. In FY 2011, 9 offices closed, and 2 offices reclassified as resident stations. Thus far In FY 2012, there were 3 offices opened, and 1 office consolidation. Of the 27,497 field office employees, 23,356  (85%) provide direct service to the public.

Teleservice Center Statistics

In the 10 regions there are 32 centers staffed to answer calls placed to our national 800 number. In fiscal year 2011 there were 5,408 employees dedicated to the teleservice centers of which, 4,440 handle calls placed to the national 800 number. The national 800 number receives on average, over 80 million telephone calls per year.  The teleservice centers support our national 800 number goal for answering calls placed to an agent. In fiscal year 2012, our national goal is to achieve an agent busy rate (ABR) of 6% or less and answer calls within an average speed of answer (ASA) of 285 seconds.

Operations Support Component Statistics

In the 10 regional offices, there are approximately 1,559 employees providing non-public contact functions and/or administrative support. In headquarters, the Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support Staff consists of approximately 308 employees providing support to the regions.

Payment Center Statistics

There are 6 processing service centers (PSC) located in the New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, and San Francisco regions. There are also two processing centers located in Baltimore, the Office of Disability Operations and the Office of International Operations, in the Office of Central Operations. The 6 PSCs currently have a total staff of 5,715, of which nearly 4,500 provide direct service. In the Office of Central Operations, 4,147 of the 5,053 employees provide direct service. In FY11, the PSCs spent 4.2% of direct workload time answering calls for the national 1-800 number.

Here are the main activities of the PCs:

  • Process Volume Cyclical Work
  • Process Exceptions and Exclusions from Automation
  • Perform Accounts Maintenance
  • Make Determinations of Overpayment and Collect Overpayments for RSDI and SSI
  • Maintain Files
  • Make Determinations of Continuing Eligibility to Disability Benefits
  • Effectuate Court Orders
  • Reconsider Initial Determinations
  • Review Medical Issues on Disability Claims
  • Provide Decision-Writing Assistance to the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA)
  • Certify Payments and Maintain Accounting Records
  • Coordinate with Other Government Agencies and other SSA Components
  • Answer Calls to SSA's National 800 Number

Additionally, here are the stated objectives and principals in the FY 12 PSC Workplan:

Objective: The FY 2012 Work Plan objective is to maintain a balanced approach to all PC workloads with appropriate attention to priority actions, completion of similar levels of cyclical work, and achievement of acceptable levels of pending volume and age of pending. The Work Plan does not call for the PCs to process all incoming work, resulting in the elimination of backlogs which, given current resources, would be well beyond our capabilities. Instead, it places emphasis on balanced beneficiary service across the broad spectrum of PC workloads.

Work Plan Principles:

  • Process all priority workloads with available resources.
  • Ensure similar outcomes for key cyclical workloads.
  • Maintain balance among the PCs for major BA, CA and Module Support (MS) workloads.
  • Utilize common workload management strategies.

Idea 9: New Ways of Doing Business (Taxation of Benefits)

“Social Security benefits should not be taxable including but not limited to the lump sum payment.”

Idea Status: We can’t adopt this idea because current law provides for taxation of a portion of social security benefits in some cases. For more information, see

For information on the tax treatment of benefits paid in one year for that year and an earlier year, see IRS publication 915, “Lump Sum Election”.

Idea 10: Waiting Time in Field Offices

“The public should be able to call an automated telephone line or go online to find out the current field office wait time. Once the individual hears what the current wait time is, an option should be made available for them to schedule an appointment.”

Idea Status: We have explored this idea and have concluded that we cannot pursue it at this time.  Providing real-time field office waiting times would require significant systems infrastructure changes, which are not currently feasible, given other mission-critical priorities.  We do provide an online process for scheduling field office appointments for people who are not able to use our online retirement, disability and Medicare applications.  Also, members of the public may call our national toll-free phone service, 1-800-772-1213, to schedule an in-office appointment.