oversight

Social Security Administration: Compliance With Presidential Directive to Reduce Management-to-Staff Ratio

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-01-22.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States
General Accounting  Office
Washington, D.C. 20648

Health, Education, and
Human Services Division

B-281813

January 22, 1999

The Honorable Russell D. F’eingold
United States Senate

Subject:    Social SecuriIx Administration: Comnliance With Presidential
            Directive to Reduce Management-to-Staff Ratio

Dear Senator Feingold:

This correspondence responds to your request that we determine the measures
taken by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in response to President
Clinton’s September 1993 directive to federal departments and agencies to
implement a National Performance Review (NPR) recommendation.’ The NPR
recommendation was designed to reduce the overall management-to-staff ratio
throughout federal departments and agencies from l-to-7 to l-to-15 by the end of
fiscal year 1999.’ In response to your request, we (1) determined the progress
SSA has made to date in achieving the directive to reduce its management-to-
staff ratio, particularly for staff graded GS-12 and above, and (2) identified the
steps SSA has taken to reduce the number of supervisory positions.

We obtained information for this correspondence through interviews with and
documentation from SSA and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) officials,
reviews of relevant NPR reports, and data obtained from SSA’s Human
Resources Management Information System. We conducted our review from
September through December 1998 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards. However, we did not independently verify the
SSA data used in this correspondence.


?he NPR began in March 1993 when President Clinton announced a 6-month
review of the federal government to identify ways to improve government
operations. This NPR report contained 384 recommendations covering various
aspects of government activities. NPR continues today; however, it is now
referred to as the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.
“The terms “management-to-staff ratio” and “supervisor-to-staff ratio” are used
interchangeably by NPR and SSA.

                             GAOLHEHS-99-43R   SSA Management-to-Staff       Ratio
B-281813

In summary, we found that SSA is making progress in its efforts to achieve a
supervisor-to-staff ratio of l-to-15 by the close of fiscal year 1999. By the end of
fiscal year 1998, the agency had reduced its supervisor-to-staff ratio to l-to-12.4
from about l-to-7 in fiscal year 1994. SSA achieved these reductions, consistent
with OPM guidance, by use of a number of special initiatives available to federal
departments and agencies. According to SSA officials, these initiatives included
early retirements, employee buyouts, and reassignment of supervisory staff to
newly created nonsupervisory positions. Since fiscal year 1993, SSA has created
a total of 1,900 new nonsupervisory positions-550 team leader positions in
headquarters and an additional 1,350 management support specialists and area
systems coordinator positions in field offices. All of the 550 headquarters
positions and 1,222 of the 1,350 regional office positions have been filled.

BACKGROUND

On September 7, 1993, the NPR issued its report containing 384
recommendations.3 A key recommendation from the report, intended to help
streamline the bureaucracy, was to reduce the number of management positions
within the federal government over 5 years. According to the 1993 report, an
estimated $40 billion in savings could result from eliminating at least 252,000
federal nonsupervisory and supervisory positions over the 5-year period! In
addition, the report observed that service to the public would improve as
agencies eliminated unnecessary layers of management and empowering agency
personnel who directly serve the public.

The NPR report stated that the preferred method for reducing the number of
management positions while increasing the span of control was through
separation incentives, coupled with a commitment to tram and reassign staff
managers to line service positions. In this way, employees in targeted
management positions who were not eligible for, or did not accept, incentives
such as early retirement or financial buyout could be transferred to other
nonsupervisory positions as they became vacant. The report’s authors also
believed that the need for a reduction-in-force-which they characterized as the
least desirable method of streamlining executive departments and agencies-
might be minimized through this strategy.

3NPR’s 1993 report, Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less,
included a series of accompanying reports that provided more detail on the
recommendations.
4As of October 15, 1997, NPR claims that almost $55 billion in savings will result
from this streamlining effort by the end of fiscal year 1999.

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B-281813


Within days after the September 1993 NPR report was published, the President
issued a memorandum to heads of departments and agencies consistent with
NPR’s recommendation to reduce the executive branch civilian workforce by
252,000, or not less than 12 percent, by the close of fiscal year 1999. The
President directed each department or agency to prepare a plan that, among
other things, addressed the means by which it would reduce the ratio of
managers and supervisors to other personnel by half within 5 years.

On October 20, 1994, the Commissioner of Social Security submitted SSA’s plan
to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This plan incorporated
changes made to address comments OMB had provided on an earlier draft. The
plan outlined SSA’s efforts to comply with NPR’s recommendation to reduce the
federal workforce, including reducing the ratio of managers to staff. It
committed the agency to the goal of reducing the ratio of supervisors to staff
from about l-to-7 in November 1993 to about l-to-15 in fiscal year 1999. The
plan also recognized that SSA was faced with achieving more staff reductions
than were possible under normal rates of attrition. As a result, consistent with
OPM and OMB guidance, SSA intended to rely on a number of special initiatives
available to federal departments and agencies. These initiatives included early
retirements and buyout authorities to encourage greater attrition at the
management level, as well as the creation of new nonsupervisory positions.

SSA PROGRESS IN REDUCING
NUMBER OF SUPERVISORS

SSA is making progress in its efforts to achieve the NPR-recommended
supervisor-to-staff ratio of l-to-15 by the close of fiscal year 1999. The agency’s
supervisor-to-staff ratio has decreased from about l-to-7 in fiscal year 1994 to l-
to-12.4 in fiscal year 1998. Table 1 identifies the changes to SSA’s supervisor-to-
staff ratio from fiscal year 1994 through fiscal year 1998.




3     :                  GAO/HEHS-99-43R        SSA Management-to-Staff       Ratio
B-281813

Table 1: SSA’s Suuervisor-to-Staff Ratio, F’iscal Years 1994 Through 1998

     Fiscal year       Total number       Total number        Total number          Supervisor-to-
                       of permanent       of supervisory            of                staff ratio      .
                       GS-1through          employees         nonsupervisory
                                                                                                       iI
                       -15 employeesa                           employees                              I
        1994                   63,838               7,774                56,064            l-to-7.21 ‘!
        1995                   63,620               6,550                57,070            l-to-8.71 ’
        1996                   63,630               5,977                57,653            l-to-g.64
        1997                   62,708               5,704                57,004            l-to-g.99
        1998       1           61,676 I             4,600 1              57,076 1         l-to-12.40

aPermanent employees include all full-time, part-time, and seasonal GS
employees working in SSA’s headquarters, regional, or field offices.

Source: SSA’s Human Resources Management Information System.

As shown in table 1, there was a 3-percent decrease (by about 2,100) in the total
number of SSA’s permanent employees in grades 1 through 15 from fiscal year
1994 through fiscal year 1998 and a corresponding reduction in supervisory staff
of about 40 percent. With regard to supervisory employees, the total number’of
supervisors decreased nearly 3,200, from 7,774 in fiscal year 1994 to 4,600 in
fiscal year 1998. Relatedly, as shown in table 2, SSA had about 2,800 fewer
supervisors graded GS-12 and above in fiscal year 1998 than it did in fiscal year
1994. Nonsupervisory GS-12s and above increased 55 percent (by 3,800) during
the same period.




 4                            GAOIHEHS-99-43R        SSA Management-to-Staff            Ratio
B-281813
Table 2: SSA Supervisorv and Nonsunervisorv Emnlovees, GS-12 and Above,
Fiscal Years 1994 Through 1998

    Fiscal year      Total number of     Total number of         Total number of
                        permanent          supervisory           nonsupervisory
                       employees,        employees, GS-12      employees, GS-12 and
                     GS-12 and above        and above                 above

          1994                  13,621                 6,800                    6,821
          1995                  13,561                 5.689                    7,872
          1996                  13,864                 5,204                    8,660
          1997                  14,184                 5,005                    9,179
          1998                  14,562                 3,976                   10,586

Source: SSA Human Resources Management Information System.

STEPS TAKEN TO REDUCE
SSA SUPERVISORY POSITIONS

SSA took a number of actions to reduce supervisory positions. These included
early retirement, employee buyouts, and reassignment of staff to nonsupervisory
positions. SSA could not break out the reductions in supervisory positions
among these methods. According to SSA officials, early retirements and buyout
authorities were critical to SSA’s efforts to reduce the supervisor-to-staff ratio.
SSA offered an early retirement opportunity for SSA supervisors and managers,
regardless of grade, during August and September 1994.5 Through September 30,
1994, a total of 129 SSA employees took the early retirement option.
Subsequently, a buyout was also offered in fiscal year 1995 and was targeted
primarily at managers and supervisors GS-12 and above, but was also available
to nonsupervisory SSA employees at any grade level on a nationwide basis. A
total of 1,106 employees left the agency as a result of the fiscal year 1995
buyout. SSA could not break out these employees between supervisors and
nonsupervisors.




51ndividuals in SSA regional and field office components of the Office of
Hearings and Appeals were excluded from this early retirement opportunity.

5     .                  GAO/HEHS-99-43R       SSA Management-to-Staff       Ratio
B-281813
In addition to the early retirements and buyout authorities, using OPM guidance,
SSA created several new nonsupervisory positions in SSA headquarters and
regions to comply with the NPR recommendation. According to OPM,
departments and agencies have adopted more team-oriented ways of organizing
their work as a result of downsizing throughout the federal government. OPM
published the General Schedule Leader Grade Evaluation Guide to assist
agencies moving to team or Workgroup structures. We were told by SSA
officials that SSA’s new Team Leader, Management Support Specialist, and Area
Systems Coordinator positions were created to provide technical expertise and
support as well as to relieve managers of many of the nonsupervisory
responsibilities they had assumed over the years.

Since fiscal year 1993, a total of 1,900 new nonsupervisory positions have been
created in SSA headquarters and field offices. In SSA headquarters,. 550 new
nonsupervisory Team Leader positions have been established and filled. SSA
used OPM’s General Schedule Leader Grade Evaluation Guide to classify the
new Team Leader positions. According to OPM guidance, Team Leaders are
responsible for assuring their supervisors or managers that the work of their
assigned team is carried out by performing a range of coordinating and
supportive duties and responsibilities. Some of the duties and responsibilities
associated with team leadership may overlap with typical supervisory functions.
Although Team Leaders are involved in assisting supervisors in the direction and
distribution of work, they are not delegated the full range of responsibilities and
authorities that supervisors possess, such as approving leave, hearing and
resolving complaints, initiating minor disciplinary actions, and developing
performance standards.

During the past several years, SSA has also established 1,350 positions for
Management Support Specialists and Area Systems Coordinators in its field
offices. As of December 1998, 1,222 of these 1,350 positions were filled.
According to SSA, these positions are technical in nature and do not involve any
supervisory responsibilities. Management Support Specialists and Area Systems
Coordinators are responsible for (1) conducting reviews of work processes, with
particular emphasis on fraud and abuse; (2) providing support to managers and
employees on systems activities; and (3) performing work in the area of public
information and other administrative duties.

According to SSA, nearly all of the individuals currently occupying these newly
established positions are former supervisors. These individuals are treated the
same as all other nonsupervisory SSA employees. Consistent with OPM
guidance, the GS grades, salaries, and benefits of former supervisors who were


 6     -                  GAOLHEHS-99-43R       SSA Management-to-Staff       Ratio
B-281813

reassigned to these positions did not change. We did not validate the duties and
responsibilities of individuals in these newly created positions.

AGENCY COMMENTS

We obtained comments on a draft of this correspondence from SSA. SSA
believed the correspondence accurately portrays SSA’s efforts to implement the
presidential directive to reduce the ratio of supervisors to other staff. SSA also
provided technical comments, which we incorporated where appropriate. SSA’s
comments appear in the enclosure.

                                 -----

As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we
will make no further distribution of this correspondence until 7 days after its
issue date. At that time, we will send copies to the Commissioner of Social
Security and to interested parties upon request.

If you or your staff have any questions about this correspondence, please call
me on (202) 512-7215. Major contributors include Fred Yohey and Vernette
Shaw.

Sincerely yours,




Barbara D. Bovbjerg
Associate Director, Income Security Issues




7     :                       GAOiHEHS-9943R SSA ilhnagement-to-S-           Ratio
ENCLOSURE                                                                                     ENCLOSURE

                    COMMENTS FROM THE SOCIAL SECURITY
                             ADMINISTRATION



                                   SOCIAL SECURITY
                                      Office of the Commissioner
                                        Jwuary    15, 1999




            Ms. Cynthia M. Fagnoni
            Director,   Income Security    Issues
            U.S. General Accounting     Office
            Washington,    D.C. 20548
            Dear Ms. Fagnoni:
            Thank you for the opportunity           to comment on the General
            Accounting      Office    draft report,     ‘SSA's Compliance with
            Presidential       Directive    to Reduce Management-to-Staff       Ratio"
             (GAO/HEHS-99-43R).          We believe   the report   accurately
            portrays     SSA's efforts      to implement the Presidential
            directive     to reduce the ratio       of supervisors     to other staff.
            Enclosed    are several technical        changes       that   correct     data
            contained    in the report.
            If you have any questions, please have your                   staff     contact
            Barbara Doering at (410) 965-2290.
                                            Sincerely,



                                         e!*w
                                            Commissioner
                                              of Social        Security
            Enclosure




                         SOCIALSECURITYADMINISTRATION BALTIMORE MD 21235-0001
(207044)

8                                          GAO/HEHS-99-43R SSA Management-to-Staff Ratio
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