Social Security, an independent federal agency that has historically faced limited oversight from Congress, faces renewed scrutiny of its $200 billion disability program following several articles in The Washington Post. Investigators on the Senate Finance Committee of both parties summoned a senior attorney on the staff of Inspector General Gale S. Ennis to a briefing earlier this month, including about 500 auditors, criminal investigators and attorneys. Learned more about the commotion in the office. .
“The Commission has become increasingly concerned about the performance of the Social Security Inspector General’s office over the past year, particularly whistleblower allegations of retaliation,” said Commission Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore. ‘s spokesperson Taylor Harvey said in an email. .
A spokesman for the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Ennis’ office declined to comment on the new study. “Since then, our research performance has returned to pre-pandemic levels,” it wrote. She said the office is not only devoting resources to “education, prevention and deterrence,” but is also committed to combating social security-related government impersonation fraud and fraud in coronavirus assistance programs. I was.
the post reported that The Ennis office imposed unprecedented penalties on more than 100 disability claimants and subsequently removed two senior officials who exposed the practice, they said. Social Security struggles to provide basic customer service to disabled claimants after lengthy pandemic shutdown, Washington Post reports, ruling early applications for benefits He explained the factors that contributed to over one million disability claims pending at state offices. Additionally, the Post found that Social Security relied on a list of discontinued jobs to deny thousands of claims each year. A senior leader in the department said investigators routinely found it to be impaired at work.
Social Security officials told Senate Finance Committee staff at a separate briefing this month that they expect an investigation into the fines prompted by the Washington Post report to be completed by mid-2023. This study provides a comprehensive look at civil penalty programs, including their origins and effectiveness.
Following Washington Post state office backlog, Deputy Social Security Commissioner Kiroro Kijakaji sent letters to all state governors demanding pay increases for disability inspectors where appropriate and hire new inspectors in agency-approved positions, telework strategies to improve retention and recruitment.
“Your state [office of Disability Determination Services] Kijakaji wrote to Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, on Dec. 13, according to a letter shared with the Post by a Social Security official on Thursday. Please consider what you can do so that
Meanwhile, key stakeholders are pushing for reform by calling on Social Security and Congress to change several policies they claim contribute to the delay.
Jackie Russell, director of the Disability Determination Service in North Carolina and president of the National Disability Determination Board, said of the proposals she is making to streamline employment practices and the insurance claim adjudication process, “I “This is a bipartisan issue that everyone in Congress needs to pay attention to,” Russell added. “We need better services for people in the most vulnerable stages of life.”
Russell faces a historic labor shortage, including doctors who approve disability applications, and has passed federal legislation to allow experienced and specially trained disability examiners to make final decisions. Seeking change. Her group also wants every director across the country, funded by Social Security, to report to the agency’s senior officials, she said. Weaken the influence of the state. The organization hopes to speed up the process of checking a new employee’s background on him. Now the process takes her 8-12 weeks and new hires can leave before they even join the company.
Additionally, Russell said he is asking Social Security to streamline the steps in claims evaluation, which involves assessing whether a claimant’s previous job skills are transferable to a new job. Reviewers must track the applicant’s 15-year work history. Russell suggests shortening the term to her five years. “This process has become so complicated and challenging that it needs to be simplified,” she said.
Social Security spokesman Jeff Nesbitt said in an email Thursday: [state disability determination office], followed government-wide rules for background checks and onboarding of new employees, and worked with state officials and government-wide to discuss ways to improve the hiring and onboarding process. ”
A report on the Post’s backlog highlights the case of Sandra Kay Pearson, 59, a former phlebotomist in Greenville, South Carolina.15 months ago.
After the article’s publication, the Social Security Administration notified Pearson’s attorneys that it had won the appeal and would begin receiving monthly checks in late January. “I am grateful for the approval,” Pearson said. “I thought if the office was this late, I wouldn’t hear anything until Christmas next year.” I’m waiting to see if
Also following The Washington Post’s report, the Florida Department of Disability Determination has taken note of allegations that a Tampa man was struck by an I-beam at a construction site, sustaining serious neck and back injuries.
Rusty Swain, 59, lives in a small trailer while he awaits a 14-month pending sentencing. Although the case has not yet been resolved, David Wright, the chief executive officer of the Disability Office representing Swain, said the state office had contacted the company several times to inquire about his work history and request a physical examination. “Frequency is heating up, which means it’s working,” Wright said. “I hope a decision is imminent.”
Oversight of disability benefit programs is one of the core responsibilities of the Office of the Social Security Inspector General.But since Ennis took office As Trump’s appointee in January 2019, Decrease in audits of social security services, and fewer disability fraud cases pursued by criminal investigators, according to . For interviews and semi-annual reports to Congress.
The decline follows an outflow of dozens of investigators who have retired or resigned over the past two years, according to audits and interviews. Since Ennis’ staff were working from her home at the height of the pandemic, she began monitoring investigators’ computer logs and phone records to see how productive they were, he said. said multiple officials in the Office of the Inspector General. She then suggested reprimanding or firing several agents who were told by supervisors that they were working on cases without being in front of a computer.
Ennis defended oversight of staff as a legitimate effort to hold taxpayers accountable, people familiar with her communications said. It led to a vote of no confidence from the Law Enforcement Officers Association.
Disciplinary actions Ennis has proposed against multiple agents are still being adjudicated.
An audit of the office’s workforce planning strategy, released to Ennis and her senior staff by the Office of Human Resources last April and obtained by the Post, warned of staff turnover. “The turnover data shows that voluntary turnover is a growing problem for the OIG,” the auditor wrote.
The report states that when criminal investigators left, The office’s hiring strategy took a different turn than usual. Many lawyers hired lawyers instead. The hiring of lawyers has been placed in newly created human resources departments to monitor employee misconduct. Concerns about being an attorney and that attorneys do not have the technical knowledge of the investigations necessary to adequately guide their work,” the auditor wrote.
The Office of Human Resources is conducting another audit that will take a deeper dive into Ennis’ hiring practices. Her spokesperson called it a “human capital management assessment,” which is “part of OPM’s regular statutory oversight responsibilities,” and said the office was “fully involved” in the assessment.
The Ennis office ranked last among 432 federal departments in a recent survey of the best places to work for the federal government.
“In a relatively short tenure, Ennis was able to transform what was once the number one federal oversight agency into the worst place to work in government.” Fired from her job in late 2019, she and fellow senior attorney Deborah Shaw pressured Ennis and her attorneys to reconsider and lower the penalties imposed on disabled claimants. “The low return on investment and shocking turnover rate bears out this reality.”
Funnié returned to work last December after appealing for termination to the independent Merit Systems Protection Board and a settlement with Ennis and his staff. Following The Post’s coverage of what she described as continued retaliation, Fanier was promoted this fall to assistant secretary for workforce performance and development, and will continue to promote training, professional development, diversity and inclusion policies. supervised the
The women were among officials who met with the Senate Finance Committee this month.
“A bipartisan inquiry is essential,” Shaw said. She returned to work in early 2020 after just over three months of paid leave, but has lost the staff she oversaw and continues to face a 45-day unpaid suspension. A representative for Ennis suggested when she took leave. It’s been diverted to hiring an employment attorney to cover an employee who speaks in a complaint.”
The commission is expected to speak to others in Ennis’ office in the coming weeks, officials said.