Social Security IG office protests having their computers monitored

(AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

When the pandemic hit and the lockdowns began, the Social Security Administration sent most of its workforce home to work remotely, as did most agencies at the time. This was a great option for most businesses and government agencies with staff that already did the lion’s share of their work via a computer anyway. But remote work provides some challenges for managers that you don’t run into nearly as often in an office setting. How do you know that the workers are using their time productively and not slacking off on the job? At the Inspector General’s office for the SSA, those questions arose at some point and a program was initiated to randomly survey the computer logs and telephone records of the workers to ensure they were on the job during working hours. This apparently angered the workers in the office and now their union is promising to take their complaints to Congress and the White House, saying that the employees have “lost confidence” in the leadership of SSA Inspector General Gail Ennis. But it certainly sounds like there’s more to this story than what’s being claimed by the union. (Government Executive)

A group representing employees of the Social Security Administration’s office of inspector general is calling on lawmakers and President Biden to take action against the watchdog office’s leadership, saying the leaders have lost the confidence of their employees.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association’s promise to take its complaints directly to Capitol Hill and the White House follows a vote in which 98% of responding employees represented by the professional association said they no longer had faith in SSA Inspector General Gail Ennis. The inspector general has ignored employee complaints and defied efforts to engage with workers, the group said in a recent letter to Ennis. The association represents 90% of the IG’s agents.

Employee satisfaction has declined since Ennis took office in early 2019 and took a significant hit this summer when the IG told employees the agency had begun conducting surveys of employee computer logs and telephone records to ensure its largely remote workforce was engaging in work activities at the proper times. Ennis said the agency was weighing disciplinary actions for those employees who were allegedly slacking off during their telework hours.

There are two reasons to be suspicious of this protest. The first is the suggestion that any serious person would try to raise a complaint about the idea of management surveying the productivity of workers to ensure they were actually working. That’s part of the job of management whether you work in the public sector or the private sector. There are a certain number of people who, when given the opportunity, will slack off if they think the boss isn’t watching. The OIG had noticed irregularities in productivity, so of course they would look for a way to provide better oversight.

But as I already suggested, there is more going on here than meets the eye. You see, Gail Ennis was appointed as Inspector General for the SSA in 2019. In other words, she was a Trump appointee. And she implemented the same policies in terms of dealing with the unions that the rest of the high-ranking officials were ordered to put in place under Trump’s directives. The unions absolutely hated that after spending so many decades having a free hand to do whatever they wanted. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see them gunning for Ennis.

Don’t be shocked if the White House quickly falls into line with this. Shortly after taking office, Joe Biden fired two other senior SSA people, Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black. People at the Social Security Administration and in the offices of the Inspectors General are appointed for terms that don’t line up with the end of presidential terms specifically to keep those offices from becoming overly politicized. Biden shattered that long-standing precedent by bowing to union pressure and firing Saul and Black well ahead of their scheduled terms of service simply because they had been appointed by Donald Trump.

Now another union is going to be pressuring Biden to do the same thing to the SSA Inspector General and for the same reason, it seems. The only other reason the IG workers would have to be upset over management auditing their working hours and productivity would be if they really had been slacking off when they were supposed to be working. Take your pick as to which reason makes the most sense, but neither of them should justify seeing Ennis lose her position. But I would bet you a dozen donuts right now that Joe Biden will kowtow to the union and do precisely that. After all, he’s done it before.

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