Millions of people rely on the services of Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices. In fiscal year 2008, SSA’s approximately 1,300 field offices provided service to about 44 million customers. People visit field offices to apply for Social Security cards, apply for retirement and disability benefits, establish direct deposit, and a host of other services. Over the last several years, staffing reductions have challenged field offices’ ability to manage work while continuing to deliver quality customer service.
Staffing constraints are having adverse effects on field office services. The number of staff in field offices dropped 4.4 percent from 2005 to 2008, as shown in the table below. As a result of greater efficiencies, field office work produced fell only 1.3 percent during the same period. To manage the reduced staffing, SSA deferred work deemed as a lower priority, such as conducting reviews of beneficiaries’ continuing eligibility. However, deferring these reviews means that beneficiaries who no longer qualify for benefits may still receive payments erroneously. Reduced staffing also impacted key customer service indicators. In fiscal year 2007, more than 3 million customers waited for over 1 hour to be served. Further, SSA’s Field Office Caller Survey found that 51 percent of customers calling selected field offices had at least one earlier call that had gone unanswered, but for methodological reasons, the unanswered call rate was likely even higher. These factors may have contributed to a 3 percent drop in SSA’s overall customer satisfaction rating from 84 percent in fiscal year 2005 to 81 percent in fiscal year 2008.