The average wait time to see a claims agent in field offices was 26.5 minutes in fiscal 2018 — 37 percent higher than in 2010, according to the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, an organization composed of field office and telecommunications service center managers.
And the wait times can be much longer.
“People line up early at Social Security offices around the country,” said Christopher Detzler, who manages a field office in Vancouver, Wash., and is the council’s immediate past president. “Sometimes the lines wrap around the building, even for offices with more reasonable wait times.”
Contacting Social Security through its toll-free number can be difficult, and 15 percent of callers heard a busy signal when calling during fiscal 2018, according to the council. (Appointments for phone conversations or in-person visits can be scheduled in advance by calling the toll-free number or a local field office.)
Most of the workers who have departed were among Social Security’s longest-serving employees. All 3,400 field office staff reductions since 2010 have come through attrition, Mr. Hinkle said.
“It’s not just lost head count, but lost institutional knowledge,” says Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, an advocacy group, and a member of the Social Security Advisory Board, a bipartisan, independent federal agency that advises the government on Social Security policy and its administration.
“Every year, the Social Security Administration is being asked to do more with less,” said Kathleen Romig, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “As a result, many of their long-term priorities are suffering, such as working down the very large backlog in disability appeals, and modernizing their technology. They can really focus only on getting checks out and even there, they are showing real signs of strain.”