The Washington Post

Devising IT solutions to make Social Security more customer-friendly


(Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)

Every year, more than 40 million people nationwide visit Social Security offices to apply for benefits or resolve a problem, and many millions more have interactions with the agency through the telephone, mail and the Internet.

David Broomell, a longtime Social Security programmer and project manager, has been instrumental in creating new ways to make visits to Social Security offices more customer-friendly through innovative information technology solutions. At the same time, he has developed new computer tools for employees, allowing them to offer more timely and efficient assistance to beneficiaries.

“Dave is a unique individual who can see a problem from the side of the beneficiary and the employees,” said Andrew Philipson, the director of systems and automation at the Social Security Administration in Chicago. “He is Social Security’s version of Steve Jobs. Year after year, he comes up with something new to help the agency and the public.”

Going back more than a decade, Broomell helped transform an inefficient manual system used to check in and process visitors at Social Security offices nationwide by creating an automated intake process. He continually upgraded the system to include touch screen monitors, TV wait-time displays and real-time management of information.

Broomell, who works near Minneapolis, currently is collaborating with IT colleagues at the Social Security headquarters in Baltimore on a nationwide rollout of a new centralized web-based customer-intake process. This will replace Broomell’s visitor process system, which has operated through separate computer servers housed at each individual Social Security office around the country.

“Dave is really responsible for standardizing and modernizing the whole visitor-intake process,” said Philipson. “His work has saved the agency tens of millions of dollars, while minimizing public waiting times.”

Broomell has been responsible for numerous other technology innovations.

He created a web-based application to identify administrative appeals involving Social Security disability claims that had been decided but were not fully processed and therefore delayed the reporting of the judicial rulings. Broomell’s system replaced a labor-intensive, manual process fraught with errors that enabled the agency to clean up its records and report the appeal decisions in a fraction of the time.

Philipson said that since 2009, Broomell’s system has helped identify and process about 40,000 cases that were thought to be pending, but actually had been decided.

“Dave is a unique employee,” said Nancy Berryhill, the acting deputy commissioner for Operations at Social Security. “He is always thinking, ‘How can I make it easier on the employees and how can I better serve the public?’ It’s so natural for him.”

Broomell also was part of a team that created software to help Social Security employees more easily track the earnings of those receiving disability payments to determine if the recipients are still eligible or should be removed from the rolls. In 2012, the system was used to complete 164,000 reviews, saving an average of one to three hours per case over the old manual process.

In addition, Broomell devised a computer program that allows supervisors to learn whether newly trained employees are processing claims and handling customer issues correctly.

Broomell’s ePAD system gives supervisors an electronic method of tracking the performance of new employees, standardizes training requirements throughout the agency and offers a quick way to make sure individual employees follow proper procedures when serving the public. In the past four years, more than 10,000 employees have used the system and have been certified as proficient.

Brad Buoy, acting director of the Center for Systems and Automation in Chicago, said Broomell is “always looking for ways to improve what we do and how we serve.”

“Dave exemplifies the true meaning of customer service. He wants to do it right, efficiently and in the most cost effective way,’’ said Buoy.

Broomell began his Social Security career in 1984 as a claims representative in the Minneapolis field office and developed software in his spare time before joining the regional IT development team in 2001. He said his experience interacting with the public on a daily basis has provided him with a keen sense of where technology can help employees serve the public better.

“A lot of IT systems people don’t understand how their efforts impact the frontline employees, but I understand how the office works because of my time as a claims representative and that gives me a unique perspective,” said Broomell.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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