History of SSA During the Johnson Administration 1963-1968



From the inception of the Social Security Program, it was determined that district offices should be established to provide direct personal service to the public in the communities where they reside. During the evolution of this program, the field structure has undergone very few major changes from this original concept. During the same period, however, the program has become more and more complex as legislative changes have taken place with the result that it has become increasingly necessary to relate the program to individual situations. At the same time, personal contacts are essential to the efficient operation of the program making possible prompt processing of workloads and facilitating continued public support and confidence. Where service needs have not justified the establishment of a district office, service has been provided by other means, primarily by regularly scheduled itinerant service to communities within a service area.

While the history of the Social Security Program has been one of continued rapid growth, the 1965 amendments undoubtedly provided one of the most dramatic expansions to the program. Most of the new workloads resulting from these amendments, including those related to the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability programs, were of the type requiring face-to-face contact with the public. It was recognized that the liberalization of the disability definition would require not only more detailed interviews with disability claimants, but would also create a need for more frequent and more difficult investigations of continuing disability. In addition, the establishment of medicare provided an entirely new range of contacts involving coverage under Part B. Despite the broad use of informational media to explain the new benefits, it was immediately apparent that there would be an increased need for personal contacts as a primary means of dealing with individuals and their rights and responsibilities under the program. It was also realized that there were many locations remote from district office locations that would also require this more personalized service; however, on the basis of potential workloads, district offices could not be justified at these locations. At the same time, it was recognized that this need could be fully met only through a smaller facility providing the services of a district office to population concentrations where contact station service would no longer seem to be practical.

While it was apparent that the establishment of a new type of facility would do much to meet amendment workloads at locations remote from the district office, it was also apparent that there would actually be inherent savings, as well as balancing factors, that would do much to offset any additional costs involved in the implementation and the operation of the plan. These new offices would be staffed with personnel who would normally be working at the district office location; thus, the same personnel totals would actually be involved except for some possible fractionalization of personnel involved in any staffing arrangement of this type. Another consideration was the problem of district office space. Many offices had little or no room for expansion to meet amendment impacts; thus, the establishment of these additional facilities would relieve this problem during the peak periods making unnecessary the acquisition of additional space in the parent office. Furthermore, since the new service facilities would be located in communities smaller than the district office city, space was normally available at a cost below that charged in the district office city. Savings would also be made in travel costs both in the elimination of travel from district office to branch offices and in coverage of contact stations from a branch office less distant than from a district office.

In anticipation of the need for a smaller facility, the Bureau of District Office Operations experimented with four facilities in 1964 to evaluate their efficiency and their appropriations to the anticipated needs. These offices serving portions of a district office service area were staffed with five to eight employees with an officer in charge responsible for the operation of the office. This was found to be a convenient staffing arrangement. These offices received guidance and direction from the manager of the parent district office who was responsible for the total operation. These offices were extremely well received by not only management, but also by the public, and it was determined that a facility of this type would meet our needs.

After discussion with regional representatives, the Bureau of District Office Operations developed criteria for the new facilities based essentially on four standards; a minimum distance of 30 miles from the district office, a minimum service area population of 50,000, an estimated claims load of 25 claims weekly, and at least 5,000 beneficiaries in the service area; however, in some instances exceptions were permitted. In April 1965, the Bureau of District Office Operations asked the regional representatives for recommendations on potential branch office locations. Approximately 150 locations were submitted. Evaluation of these locations resulted in an initial selection of 92 sites. On July 30, 1965, the Commissioner approved the establishment of these new facilities. One month later, the first of these new facilities was opened to the public. By January 1966, 70 had been opened; by June 1967, the number had increased to 97; and by June 1968, a total of 120 were in operation.

As the branch office program developed, service demands showed sharp increases at many locations, and it was apparent that many of those locations had definite district office potential. During the year 1967,it was necessary, because of the tremendous service needs, to convert seven branch offices to district offices. Since the inception of the branch office program, a total of 12 branch offices have been converted. There are now a total of 120 branch offices of this type in operation.

For some time, there has been concern for the adequacy of the service Social Security Administration was providing in metropolitan areas, particularly in large urban areas having only one district office as well as in multi-office cities. As a possible compromise to opening an additional district office, experimentation has been initiated in the operation of smaller offices within a district-office and designated as metropolitan branch offices. These represent an extension of service by the district office to the residents of its service area and are located in areas of high population and beneficiary concentration. These offices operate similarly to a district office and provide the full scope ofservices available in the district offices and under the direction of anoperations supervisor with the district manager providing general supervision and guidance.

Despite past efforts to provide needed service through additional district offices, it was recognized that there were certain identifiable groups, particularly the socially and economically disadvantaged who do not always fully avail themselves of existing service facilities. Furthermore, studies also indicated that many of the Bureau of District Office Operations offices were not located strategically enough to insure or encourage equal service to these minority groups. On the basis of these studies, as well as the recommendations of the regional representatives and local civic leaders, branch offices were opened in neighborhoods or areas where these minorities and disadvantaged actually live and carry out their normal activities. However, in contrast to the established criteria for branch offices, the only requirement for this type of facility was a determination that these disadvantaged groups in an area are not making full use of existing available service. Successful experience with the earlier branch office program, as well as with metropolitan facilities in Washington, D.C., clearly indicated the appropriateness of such a course of action. As a result of an analysis of these service needs, approximately 150 potential locations were identified for facilities of this type. Of this number, 61 have been approved for opening in 33 cities throughout the nation and these offices are now being activated with further locations under consideration.

While the most significant growth in field facilities during the period of 1963 to 1968 has been in the branch office program, the number of district offices increased by 31 new offices to 642 during the same period, with 16 of these opening in 1967. Eight of these offices were in new locations where the Bureau of District Office Operations had not previously had a full-time facility.

Extended Office Hours in the District and Branch Offices

In response to the President's request that all Government agencies takethe necessary steps to provide improved service to the public, a program of extended office hours was instituted in all district and branch offices of the Social Security Administration in July 1966. The program originally provided for four additional hours to be scheduled each week in all of Social Security Administration's more than 700 offices. With the advent of Medicare, the implementation of this program was very timely. It provided an opportunity for older persons who were still working to apply for Medicare coverage without losing time from their jobs as well as a more convenient time for other members of the public to contact Social Security Administration.

In November 1966, the basic extended office hour period was reduced from four to three hours except in those offices where the additional hour was needed. A further reduction to two hours was made in 200 offices in August 1967, while at the same time the extended office hour program was terminated in 145 offices where the extended hours were not needed and other means of providing improved service to the public proved to be more efficient and economical.

During the first 24 months of operation, over 1,500,000 contacts have been made with the public through the extended office hour program.{l}

Specialization in District Offices

Still another step in the direction of improving service to the public brought a major change in operating procedures: the establishment of special disability units in the district offices on January 24, 1968. For some time it had been recognized that disability claims processing represented one of the most complex operations in the Social Security Administration. The concentration of disability claims work and the intensive training of the claims representative in these special units assured a greater expertise to the disability process. Special studies are now being undertaken to determine the extent to which processing time and the quality claims can be improved.{2}

Footnotes (Footnote numbers not same as in the printed version)

{1} Memorandum for Heads of Departments and Agencies, November 1, 1965;
Civil Service Journal, "Improving our service to the public", by Irving Kator;
Improvement of the Government's Service to the Public, November 8, 1965;
Memorandum on Distict office hours next week and for the balance of the fiscal year, March 24, 1966;
Memorandum Improving Service to the Public, April 11, 1966;
Memorandum Improving public service: extended office hours, June 23, 1966;
Memorandum Extension of Office Hours in Social Security District Offices, June 29, 1966;
"The Federal Diary", The Washington Post, January 24, 1967;
Commissioner's Decisions August 17, 1967;
Memorandum Extended office hours (EOH), August 17, 1967.

{2} Organization Manual, Number 3, March 1, 1968
Organization Manual, Guide Circular, February 2, 1968
Organization Manual, Number 2, January 24, 1968