WASHINGTON -- In its first major shake-up in more than a decade, the Social Security Administration plans to cut more than 1,000 management jobs within two years -- mostly at its Woodlawn headquarters -- in an effort to streamline the agency's bureaucracy.
The job cuts, Social Security officials insist, will be made through attrition and voluntary reassignments, not layoffs or forced retirements.
Administrators said the reductions would affect only managementstaff, not the front-line employees who deal with millions of Americans at district offices across the country. In fact, officials said, some employees may be added at the district offices.
Commissioner Shirley S. Chater said she hoped the changes would trim SSA's oft-criticized bureaucracy and make the agency more efficient.
"The goals of SSA's streamlining plans are to create a leaner agency structure," Ms. Chater said in a statement yesterday, "and empower employees to better serve the customer and become more involved in decision-making."
The changes are prompted by orders from President Clinton to reduce management staffs at federal agencies and by the recommendations last year of Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review, which is trying to shrink top-heavy management.
Between 700 and 800 of the jobs slated to be cut are in Woodlawn, said Phil Gambino, an SSA spokesman. The rest will come from the agency's 10 regional offices. Salaries for most of these positions range from $40,000 to $90,000, Mr. Gambino said.
Mr. Gambino said the normal pace of retirements should account for about half the jobs to be eliminated. Other employees are expected to volunteer for reassignment or take the federal buyouts that Social Security plans to offer after Oct. 1.
The agency employs more than 10,000 people at its Woodlawn headquarters, and 4,000 elsewhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area.
During the 1980s, thousands of positions were eliminated throughattrition, many in areas dealing with the public. The job cuts left the agency swamped by a rising tide of new claims and sparked complaints that it was unresponsive to recipients.
Recently, the agency has been struggling to cope with a huge backlog of claims for disability benefits.
The overhaul at headquarters comes at a pivotal time for the Social Security Administration, whose $325 billion budget makes bigger than most Cabinet-level departments. Within a week, Congress isexpected to grant final approval to a plan that would make SSA an independent agency, removing it from its current position within the Department of Health and Human Services.
Independence will mean new tasks for the Woodlawn headquarters, which will have to shoulder responsibilities that in the past were handled by Health and Human Services. But Ruth Pierce, SSA's deputy commissioner for human resources, said the plan to streamline management "should make these changes easier to accommodate."
Ms. Pierce described the reductions in management as the biggest change at Woodlawn since 1979, when the Health Care Financing Administration was removed from SSA and SSA itself was reorganized.
With less bureaucracy at the top, "employees will not go to their managers and say 'How do I do my job?' " Ms. Pierce said. Because the job cuts target only management, union members should not be directly affected. Harold Roof, an official with Local 1923 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents thousands of workers at Woodlawn, said this the streamlining "is a good approach in terms of reducing bureaucracy. . . . As agencies evolve and corporate America evolves, bureaucracies evolve with them."
Mr. Roof said his union is concerned about whether the expected federal-employee buyouts would be available to a broad enough spectrum of employees.