Of Social Insecurity, insolence and resolutions

Tips for using private sector strategies to deal with public sector bureaucracies.

Evidently, “do as I say, not as I do” guides much of the Social Security Administration operations. Increasingly, there are reports strongly advising consumers to recheck advice given by Social Security representatives for accuracy and completeness.

A forbes.com report dated Feb. 7, 2017 by Laurence Kotlikoff frames part of the discussion. Entitled “Social Security Can’t Even Get Its FAQs Right,” Kotlikoff castigates the agency for false and misleading information about benefits and other matters. Yet, when I went in to an office for the relatively routine matter of getting a replacement Social Security card, you would have thought I was applying for a security clearance, given how many times I was asked/cautioned about not providing “false information.”

There seem to be few directives about Social Security employees being truthful with us, in stark contrast to requirements of us with them.

I support being truthful, but why don’t the rules apply both ways? Because the federal government doesn’t have to play by their own rules in many cases. This is nothing new, but the cumulative frustration and anger felt by the American people over this state of affairs was, no doubt, a catalyst for voting for Trump. Trump supporters now awaiting the magic wand of change waving through the air will probably be frustrated by continuing stagnancy. This stuff is entrenched deep within the bureaucracy, and so far there doesn’t seem to be any catalyst to change.

However, if you choose to tackle the bureaucratic maze, whether it be Social Security or some other dysfunctional area, here are a couple tips that may help you gain some measure of success:

Find a PR leverage point. While this can be next to impossible with government agencies that seem to answer to no one but themselves, there is a technique that works well overall—particularly in the private sector. Find a sympathetic ear in the form of a PR person who works for the organization, and who by nature wants to avoid bad publicity. Often, you can locate someone simply by googling the organization name followed by the words “press releases.” Then comb through and around until you find someone with phone and/or email. Solicit their support by asking for their help to direct you to someone higher up the ranks who can address your “aberrational” issue. (Of course, this requires something that merits discussion, which typically is not a garden variety complaint.) I know this works because I’ve done it and achieved resolutions with companies ranging from Comcast to Verizon—and a bunch in between.

Search your troubles away. With some elbow grease and willingness to dig, you well may be able to locate someone in the executive or administrative offices who’s got the clout to help. An “I need your help” approach can work wonders. While this is somewhat hit-and-miss, the hits are sweet. True story: In the middle of the night I started googling information about the Kaiser executive staff and found two phone numbers. The first one was a non-starter; but the second put me through directly to the CEO’s assistant—who in turn got me to the right people in Colorado to solve a billing problem. Not only did my problem get resolved, evidently my actions led to some procedural changes in Kaiser’s Colorado operation to avoid a repeat.

You’d be surprised to learn how much change you can effect, for yourself and others, with some well-timed and well-placed effort.

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Mark Lusky, aka The Happy Curmudgeon, has voted for Democrats, Republicans and a Libertarian in presidential elections going back 30 years. As the owner of a 34-year-old, Denver-based marketing communications firm, he is a political malcontent who often quips support for “Thunder the Wonder Puppy” as a presidential candidate. (Too bad George Carlin is no longer among us to make a run—although he likely would have known better.)

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