A Social Security Administration worker in Baltimore responsible for assessing the performance of caseworkers testified yesterday that she was pressured repeatedly by higher-ups to "stop finding deficiencies" and to falsify the accuracy of her ratings.
Ann Mogenhan, a 13-year employe in the Office of Disability Operations, told a House Government Operations subcommittee that her managers discouraged her from conducting tough assessments of caseworkers, beginning in 1983, for fear of lessening output and jeopardizing their own merit raises.
"I was told by several different managers on numerous occasions to provide false accuracy statistics on individuals whose production was high, since charging errors caused them to drastically reduce their production," Mogenhan told the subcommittee on human resources and intergovernmental relations.
Mogenhan, a self-described whistle-blower, was among 10 current and former Social Security Administration workers and advocates of beneficiaries who testified about the adverse impact of major staffing reductions and administrative changes in the 1,300 SSA offices throughout the country.
Critics contend that the cutbacks have resulted in shoddy work, unanswered telephone calls, large backlogs of applications and administrative appeal rulings, and far less personal assistance for mentally and physically handicapped persons in filling out forms.
Those allegations were disputed by Social Security Commissioner Dorcas R. Hardy and her top aides.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) complained that administrative law judges who frequently sided with recipients in disputes with the SSA were sent to "remedial judges school." He also said he was appalled that hundreds of his constituents had to wait many months for the outcome of their appeals because of a shortage of typists to type the dispositions.
"We have a typing crisis in New England," he said.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) told the subcommittee he was troubled by the testimony of Mogenhan and Kitty Peddicord, a benefit authorizer in the same Baltimore office who is on leave. Peddicord, who is on the staff of the American Federation of Government Employees, told the subcommittee that "production, rather than accuracy, is emphasized to employes."
"No agency in our government should ever, under any circumstances, tell its employes not to find, report and correct errors," said Sarbanes, vice chairman of the Federal Government Service Task Force. "We have seen where that kind of thinking leads and the damage it does."
Sarbanes released the results of a task force survey of House and Senate caseworkers who routinely deal with constituent complaints about the Social Service Administration, suggesting that problems have increased significantly in three years.
Of the caseworkers interviewed, Sarbanes said, 84 percent said they would not give the SSA high marks for service, 66 percent cited instances in which SSA workers mishandled files, 68 percent said that payment errors had become a growing problem, and more than half said they did not have confidence that SSA would handle and adjudicate disability claims fairly.
"Caseworkers repeatedly praised SSA workers for their efforts under trying circumstances," Sarbanes said. "Nevertheless, caseworkers rated employes' discourteousness as a growing problem. Staff shortages, in their opinion, will continue to undermine employe attitudes and conduct."
In a tense exchange, Herbert R. Doggette Jr., deputy SSA commissioner for operations, chastised Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), chairman of the subcommittee, for playing down progress made by SSA in modernizing its operation, improving management techniques and improving employe morale.
Doggette cited findings in two General Accounting Office studies this year -- based on data provided by the SSA -- showing improvements in processing cases, reducing backlogs and making accurate payments.
"We are doing the job we are supposed to be doing, and we keep getting these anecdotal and unsubstantiated allegations," Doggette said.
Weiss said that he had received many complaints from SSA employes, union officials, recipients and others, and advised Doggette not to "feel so comfortable about what GAO said."