We the People

Social Security Silliness

We have been married for very nearly two years, and in that time we had never bothered to update my wife's name on her Social Security card. I'm sure this is probably something that we could be fined for doing, but we just never got around to it….

We have been married for very nearly two years, and in that time we had never bothered to update my wife’s name on her Social Security card. I’m sure this is probably something that we could be fined for doing, but we just never got around to it. Everything else? Absolutely. But not that little blue card.

So we went to the web site of the Social Security Administration to find out what we needed to do. We found a very helpful page that gave us all the information we needed. What’s more, it sounded like a relatively painless process. That would be a nice change when dealing with the government. Alas, it was not to be.

We filled everything out, and then went to figure out what to do with it. We could mail it in, or drop it by the local office. Since the local office is maybe a mile-and-a-half away, we decided to drop it off. Going to the local post office would actually be further (and I didn’t want to put the envelope in the mailbox, what with it containing a couple of “official” documents).

Since my wife had to work, I waited in line for about 30 minutes, told the gentleman that I wanted to drop things off for my wife, he looked at them and told me that I couldn’t. I asked why. He said because I didn’t have a letter or anything authorizing me to do it. I asked why that was necessary, as I didn’t have to have any such letter to mail the information in my hand. Why should it matter if I’m there in person? Anyway, had I known that, I would have written one. I certainly had enough time in line to do it. Anyway, I decided not to ask him for a pen and paper, as that would have been opening another can of worms, and left.

I quickly came home, stuffed everything into an envelope, and returned to the office, where I asked a helpful security guard if I could hand them to someone, rather than having to mail them. He pointed me to a mail drop on the wall, where I deposited the documents and left once again. This entire trip, including the round trip back home again, took maybe 15 minutes. And the only thing different about it was that I put things in an envelope and dropped them in a mail slot instead of handing them directly to a human being. What sense does that make?

5 replies on “Social Security Silliness”

I’ve got my own Social Security Administration silly bureaucracy story….

The software that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to canonicalize mailing addresses when sending out social security cards has a bug which causes correct ZIP codes in some addresses to be replaced with incorrect ZIP codes.

This bug has been present for at least five years and has caused the social security cards for three of my children to be “lost” in the mail after their births.

The first two times this happened to me, the SSA resent a duplicate card when I contacted them and complained that the original had never arrived.

The first two times this happened to me, the SSA refused to investigate why the original card never arrived.

The third time this happened to me, I finally convinced the SSA to investigate, and the bug was exposed.

The SSA refuses to admit that the behavior of their software is a bug, despite the fact that any competent software engineer familiar with address-canonicalization technology would understand immediately that it is after being given a test case illustrating it.

The SSA refuses to issue a duplicate card for my youngest child unless I file a form SS-5, which requires that I either (a) send original, personal identification documents through the mail, which I am unwilling to do because of concerns about identity theft and document loss, or (b) submit the form SS-5 in person at one of their offices, which I am unwilling to do because I think it’s entirely unreasonable for me to have to miss work to correct the SSA’s error.

The SSA has already admitted that my youngest child’s card was lost in the mail and that they know why this happened. They’ve been corresponding with me at the address to which the card was supposed to have been sent, which is in their records, which means that they know for a fact that I am the father of the child whose card was lost and that I am legally allowed to receive a copy of the card. That they nevertheless refuse to issue a duplicate card has no legitimate justification and can be explained only as bureaucratic inertia or a stubborn refusal to admit fault.

See here for additional details.

I understand the person at the desk essentially requiring me to have proof of permission. But really now, what good would that do? Where is the proof that I didn’t just give myself the permission? If you compared signatures, that would do it, but the signature on the passport would match the signature on the change request, so why would it be necessary?

And yes, the second of your questions is the point. If I can walk away, come back very nearly instantaneously and deposit the information in a way in which it will (theoretically) be accepted, and all I have done is put the aforementioned paperwork into an envelope, why make me go through the effort? Why could I dump it in an envelope, but I’m not allowed to just hand it to a human being? That’s just insane.

Well, I can understand them wanting you to have proof of permission when you came in; after all, what else would stop you from filling out the forms and changing your wife’s name against her will, if in fact that wasn’t what she wanted?

On the other hand, by simply dropping the forms in a box in an envelope, you pretty much circumvent the face-to-face validation requirement, so what’s the point anyway?

I guess that’s the bureaucracy for you. Becky and I avoided that problem by going to the SSA office together. Of course, we had both taken off of work for a day, so that was a possibility for us.

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