The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced earlier this year that it would reopen most of its offices in early April after more than two years of closures. This followed the completion of a labor agreement with the unions that represent Social Security workers. However, there hasn’t been an announcement of an exact reopening date, although the offices are known to be preparing their reopening plans.
Meanwhile, the chief information officer of the SSA, Sean Brune, appeared on a podcast this week to talk about the agency’s digital efforts.
Brune was a guest on the March 30 episode of Gov CIO Media’s Govcast. According to the episode description, Brune “discusse[d] the agency's immense changes he's seen over his career and how he sees emerging technologies and directives impacting what’s to come around digital services.” An employee of SSA since he started as an intern in 1999, Brune was appointed Chief Information Officer and Deputy Commissioner for Systems in October of 2020.
Interviewed on the podcast by Amy Kluber, the publication’s editor-in-chief, Brune discussed the agency’s systems modernization efforts, as well as how it is dealing with longtime challenges.
“I was drawn to Social Security because of the mission,” Brune said in the interview. “I find it rewarding to help people, and each month over 70 million beneficiaries and SSI recipients depend on SSA, the benefits they’ve earned, and that we pay monthly, to meet their daily needs, to buy food and shelter and medicine, and that’s an extraordinarily positive way to make an impact.”
“Our programs are complex, and our employees use technology to make sure that each person gets accurate information and that each individual gets the benefits that they’ve earned and are entitled to receive,” he added.
Brune also said that technology is “at the center of everything we do” at SSA. When he started there, he said, documents mostly came into SSA’s headquarters on paper.
“Recently, we’ve implanted things like robotics processing information, artificial intelligence for big data analysis … in the last couple of years, as the nation and the world have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve adopted technology broadly,” including video meetings, contactless technology, and growth in the online filing. The agency is also five years into a “structured IT modernization program.”
As for the reopening, Brune said that while “we’ll be reopening offices to public contact,” the public should go online first to schedule an appointment if they need one.
“For many Americans, the federal organizations they interact with most frequently are the post office and the Social Security Office,” he said. “For that reason, we often say we are the face of government.” He also noted an executive order issued by President Biden in 2021 that was aimed at making Social Security and other government services easier to access.
“Ultimately, our vision is to reimagine our business practices and leverage modern technology to reduce the burden for accessing Social Security benefits and services. People should wait less in line, or on the phone, for an answer, and they should be able to find information conveniently at the time of their choosing,” Brune said. He added that the pandemic has “accelerated” the use of self-service for claims.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.