The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report on August 7, 2014 on the effect of SSA’s reduction in field office hours available to the local public. SSA’s field offices are the local offices situated throughout communities where the public can visit to receive face-to-face service from SSA personnel. Prior to 2011, most SSA filed offices were open to the public from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. In August of 2011, SSA began closing field offices 30 minutes earlier each day in order to provide SSA staff with more time to handle the backlog of administrative duties. In November of 2012, SSA again trimmed the hours available to the public by closing field offices at 3:00 PM. In January of 2013, hours were reduced yet again by closing field offices to the public at noon every Wednesday, which reduced the number of hours field offices were open to the public to 27 hours per week.
The OIG report concluded that the public was often unaware of the reduced field office hours, creating inconvenience for them, and ultimately resulting in reduced public satisfaction. The report also found that managers of field offices allowed for increased workload processing, but had the adverse effect of increasing wait times and creating crowds when the office is open to the public. The report comes on the heels of a Senate hearing held on June 18, 2014 regarding SSA office closures and service cuts at a time when the baby boomer generation is filing a record number of retirement, disability and survivor claims. The reduction in SSA office hours is said to be related to budget cuts and SSA staff attrition and limited means for the agency to replace the lost workers.
According to the report, SSA field offices vary broadly in the volume of customers they serve on a face to face basis: the Huron, South Dakota office averages 19 visitors a day, while a field office in Miami, Florida averages 568 visitors per day. The face to face services provided to the public include processing applications for benefits, Social Security numbers, or replacement Social Security cards.