Back from Vacation

My wife and I just spent two weeks driving across the country- from my former apartment near Washington DC to our home in San Diego, CA. We covered over 3,800 miles, 15 states, 4 national parks, plenty of unbelievably beautiful scenery throughout, quite a few quaint restaurants, a small dog breeding farm and a very hot music spot. We saw old friends, met wonderful people, ate well, camped out, and spent a lot of time just the two of us together, talking, listening, watching in silence, hiking, feeling very peaceful. Throughout, it reinforced my internal conviction about the goodness of our country and how we must all endeavor to contribute to its future success. Beauty and abundance are all around us here. We must preserve what has been handed down to us and allow our children to inherit that which we are so lucky to enjoy.

I have been away from this blog while I was on the road. During that time, the country was undergoing another irrational political dance, this time around a default non-issue. My tenure at SSA has taught me that irrational political dancing is the norm. What was irrational (to me) at SSA? I looked at its modernization plan and I asked myself- suppose SSA totally succeeded in executing its plan- on time and on budget- what would the agency look like in five years? The answer I came up with is- not good. It would not be able to do the many things we all wished we could do, and administrative costs would still be increasing. I also asked those who made those plans the same question. Their response was that it is impossible to predict what SSA would look like in five years. Now that’s irrational. I was asking for the most optimistic scenario. Certainly, one would not proceed spending our hard earned tax money if one did not have at least some notion of progress in the most optimistic scenario. That’s what planning is supposed to be all about. But that’s not acceptable thinking at SSA.

We spent hundreds of people-hours arguing what IT projects should be funded, and never addressing the train wreck that we all knew is coming. I bet this is still going on. Why are we arguing whether tonight’s dinner should be fish or beef, whether tonight’s entertainment should be a movie or a dance, or if we should even have entertainment tonight, when the ship is heading towards an iceberg? The answer is that we are all doing another irrational political dance. This one involves the internal politics of a large government bureaucracy. The incentives and fear motives are so structured that the only way people feel secure moving forward is by avoiding the real issues, leaving them to whoever takes over next, and simply playing the game they are all comfortable with. The game is quite simple- just keep asking for more and more money and keep blaming shortcomings on lack of money.

Yes, I am back from my trip and as charged up as ever to continue the fight. We can actually achieve our dreams, deliver better services at reduced costs, make our employees and our customers happier, and create a Social Security for the twenty first century.

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Social Security: The bureaucracy will resist, but the people will insist

Until I actually experienced it from the inside, I had no idea how broken it is. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is a mess, and its dysfunctional leadership’s refusal to address critical issues are endangering one of the nation’s most precious social programs. Disability hearings backlog is increasing; wait times are long and phone calls remain unanswered; fraud and incorrect payments are rampant; IT infrastructure is archaic and getting harder and harder to manage; and costs to run the Social Security program are increasing.

For years now, Congress has been asking SSA for a service delivery plan, but SSA has not delivered one. Congress has been asking for an IT modernization plan, but they have gotten the run-around. A plan was finally being formulated by SSA’s Office of Vision and Strategy, to improve Social Security services while significantly lowering costs. The plan was enthusiastically supported by the Chief Federal Enterprise Architect. But SSA’s leaders nixed the plan and dissolved the team that created it.

SSA’s leaders refuse to consider new approaches to modernization. They intend for SSA to continue doing what it has been doing for decades, even though they know this course of action will increase costs and not yield the services that the American people want and deserve.

SSA-2020 shows how to fix Social Security. Now, we just have to make it happen.

Click to read the 2 page brief Social Security 2020: Call to Action

Click Social Security 2020: Vision and Strategy to read how SSA should be, why its current approach to modernization is flawed, and how we can actually fix it.

Click SSAB: Vision of the Future to read the Social Security Advisory Board’s vision of the future for the Agency. SSA’s current direction cannot get to this vision; SSA-2020 does.

Please spread the word. Use Facebook and Twitter. Galvanize your friends. Contact your representatives and tell them you will not tolerate the wasting of your hard earned tax money and the degradation of critical services just because some bureaucrats are too afraid to confront a challenge. Let’s all work together to fix Social Security.