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Scandal-plagued federal agency reforms by creating "word cloud" of "professional standards"

Published in Blog on July 17, 2017 by Convention Of States Project

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The following excerpt was written by M.D. Kittle and originally published on

The federal agency accused of widespread misconduct and whistleblower retaliation at several of its offices is now attempting to create an organizational culture built on several ethical pillars.

Last month, the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review began a “conversation” with employees about the kind of culture the agency wants to promote in 2017.

Facilitators of that conversation have gotten as far as forming a “word cloud” of principles in slide show format, according to an internal email obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

“Together, we have identified themes like; Service, Respect, Quality, Trust, Professionalism, Fairness, and Responsiveness, as the culture we want in ODAR,” the email states. “As you can see, public service is more than just providing an answer.  It’s how we serve people and their families during some of the most difficult times in their lives.”

That’s all a tough sell for Ron Klym, a long-time ODAR senior case technician who was fired in August, a couple of months after he went public with allegations of lengthy case delays in the system.

In May, Klym detailed the Milwaukee ODAR’s growing backlog of cases. Wisconsin Watchdog obtained records of some of the more extended delays.

Dozens of cases on appeal took more than 700 days to complete. One Green Bay case clocked in at 862 days. A Marquette request for benefits hit 1,064 days, and another was completed in 1,126 days.

“We had two clients who stopped in the office yesterday wondering what’s going on, and they have been waiting for 21 months,” Jessica Bray, partner at Upper Michigan Law in Escanaba, Mich., said in the May 4 investigative piece. Her colleague handled the noted cases that topped 1,000 days. “I sent a letter to the Milwaukee office, but I don’t think it’s going to do any good. Those cases haven’t even been assigned yet.”

In March, ODAR’s pending claims awaiting a hearing hit 1.1 million cases nationally.

Klym, who is supposed to be protected under federal whistleblower laws, still is waiting for answers on his grievances, and the status of federal investigations into what he says is a clear violation of claimants’ due process rights.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee opened an inquiry into the ODAR offices in Milwaukee and Madison more than six months ago. Sources say the inquiry goes on but the Social Security Administration has been less than helpful in supplying requested information.

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