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Highlights

SSA oversees and fully funds primarily state-operated DDSs that determine whether applicants are eligible for disability benefits. The disability examiners employed by the DDSs play a key role in determining benefit eligibility. This report examines (1) the challenges the DDSs face today in retaining and recruiting examiners and enhancing their expertise; (2) the extent to which the DDSs engage in workforce planning and encounter obstacles in doing so; and (3) the extent to which SSA is addressing present and future human capital challenges in the DDSs.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Social Security Administration 1. The Commissioner of SSA should develop a nationwide strategic workforce plan that addresses present and future human capital challenges in the DDSs. This plan should enable SSA to identify the key actions needed to deal with immediate DDS problems with recruiting and hiring, training, retention, and succession planning in support of SSA's strategic plan. It should additionally enable SSA to anticipate and plan for the future workforce that will be needed as SSA modernizes and fundamentally transforms its approach to disability decision-making. To develop and implement this comprehensive workforce plan, SSA should work in partnership with the DDSs and their parent agencies. As part of the planning process, SSA should (a) identify a small number of key DDS indicators of human capital performance, including recruiting and hiring measures, level of stress in the workplace, training needs, and turnover. SSA should establish standards for acceptable performance on these indicators, routinely collect and analyze the data to identify trends, and use this information to guide decisions regarding future DDS workforce needs and the strategies to meet them; (b) provide necessary tools and technical assistance to the DDSs to enable them to conduct long-term workforce planning. SSA should ensure that SSA staff responsible for providing this assistance are well trained in the tenets of workforce planning; (c) require each DDS to develop its own long-term workforce plan that is linked to the nationwide long-term DDS workforce plan. SSA should work in partnership with the DDSs and their parent agencies to develop these plans; (d) establish an ongoing program of outreach from SSA's leadership to state governors and national associations of state government officials to discuss the benefits and challenges of the federal-state relationship and encourage them to address human capital challenges identified by DDS directors, such as salary limits and hiring freezes; and (e) link performance expectations of appropriate SSA executives to their efforts in accomplishing goals and objectives of the workforce plan.
Closed - Implemented
SSA agreed with the recommendation. In December 2006, SSA's Office of Disability Determination (ODD) collaborated with state DDS representatives on a project to identify skills sets needed in the DDS electronic environment, as well as issues, barriers and recommendations for effective staffing, recruitment and retention with in the state DDSs. The DDS Recruitment & Retention Workgroup identified ten short-, mid- and long-range opportunities that require further collaboration and dedicated resources, including training investment, equitable salaries, succession planning, and disability examiner certification. The workgroup also refined the recommendations packages, presented the final recommendations to SSA executives, and worked with SSA leadership to develop an implementation strategy over a multi-year timeline. In September 2008, SSA reported that in December 2007, the Workgroup presented a final report regarding current and future recruitment and retention impediments for the DDSs. The workgroup identified 147 issues affecting recruitment and retention which were then consolidated into nine topic categories. The overarching topics include items such as training, compensation initiatives, DE certification, succession planning, executive marketing packages, etc. The Recruitment and Retention Workgroup Final Report was vetted within the Office of Operations. Workgroups comprised of DDS representatives, regional office staff and central office component representatives are currently being formed to implement actions and/or initiate research to bring solutions to the 147 items.
Social Security Administration 2. The Commissioner of SSA should issue regulations that establish uniform minimum qualifications for new disability examiners. The minimum qualifications should be based on an analysis of the position that identifies the examiner's responsibilities and the minimum knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary to adequately perform them. The minimum qualifications for the examiner's position should take into account any changes in the complexity of the tasks required for this position stemming from the Commissioner's new long-term strategy.
Closed - Not Implemented
SSA agreed with this recommendation. The DDS Recruitment and Retention Workgroup is evaluating skill sets that DDS case examiners should have in the new electronic environment, as well as need for more consistent job descriptions and evaluating certification of case examiners. The Workgroup committee anticipates a final product that will identify best practices, necessary changes in the law, and what actions that SSA and DDSs can respectively take to address issues of recruitment and retention of case examiners. The Workgroup has issued a draft Executive Summary and plans to present final recommendations to SSA executives and work with SSA leadership on developing a multi-year implementation strategy. In September 2008, SSA reported that the Workgroup report contains a number of actions related to the recruiting, hiring and retaining highly qualified staff including setting minimum qualifications for Disability Examiners; implementing a national Disability Examiner position description; and creating a national Disability Examiner certification program. The Implementation Workgroup is working with SSA leadership to develop multi-year implementation strategies.
Social Security Administration 3. The Commissioner of SSA should work with DDSs to close the gaps between current examiner skills and required job skills. To do so, SSA should work with the DDSs to (a) analyze examiner training needs, using as a foundation the analysis of job responsibilities and related minimum knowledge, skills, and competencies recommended above; (b) improve training content and delivery to meet these needs, basing such efforts on analyses of training content and appropriateness of training delivery methods; and (c) develop performance measures to track effectiveness of these improvements to training.
Closed - Implemented
SSA agreed with this recommendation. On an ongoing basis, SSA's Office of Disability Program's Disability Training Team is responsible for (1) conducting teleconferences with the Disability Training Steering Committee, which provides input on DDS-related training needs, (2) maintaining a Disability Training Cadre that prepares and presents disability-related training via interactive video teleconference (IVT), (3) providing training on new listings of impairments, and (4) updating the Disability Examiner Basic Training Program, which is the entry-level course for new examiners. The DDS Recruitment and Retention Workgroup (a) identified training investment as one of ten top issues, (b) presented final recommendations on this and other issues to SSA executives and (c) worked with SSA leadership to develop a multi-year implementation strategy.

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