IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
August 2, 2012
Mr. Brown of Massachusetts introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance
To protect senior citizens, disabled persons, veterans, and other beneficiaries and customers of the Social Security Administration by reforming the process for closure of field offices.
This Act may be cited as
Good Neighbor Social Security
Office and Community Protection Act of 2012.
Congress finds that:
As of March 2012, more than 61,000,000 Americans received benefits from the Social Security Administration.
Americans depend upon convenient access to Social Security Administration field offices.
The Social Security Administration faces growing financial constraints consistent with the fiscal emergency faced by the Nation.
Americans rightly expect the Social Security Administration to meet its financial objectives through methods that preserve service standards to the highest degree possible.
The Social Security Administration is in the process of closing large numbers of field offices in an effort that is expected to last several years.
The Social Security Administration is closing field offices without adequate community input and process transparency.
The shortcomings in the Social Security Administration's process for closing field offices are due in part to an absence of a statutorily defined field office closure procedures that protect the interests of all interested parties.
Social Security beneficiaries and the communities surrounding Social Security field offices deserve notice of office closures, an opportunity to offer comment and have those comments given due consideration, and a clear plan to minimize service disruption from an office closure.
In this Act:
The term Administration means the Social Security Administration.
The term closure includes any realignment, consolidation, or merger of an Administration field office.
The term Commissioner means the Commissioner of Social Security.
The term State means each of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northen Mariana Islands.
Guidelines and standardized procedures for closure of Social Security Administration field offices
Guidelines for identification of offices for possible closure
Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Commissioner shall develop and publish—
financial guidelines that may be used to identify Administration field offices for possible closure; and
standardized closure procedures that meet the requirements of section 5.
The financial guidelines and standardized closure procedures developed under subsection (a) shall provide that identification of an Administration field office for possible closure shall not require the Commissioner to begin closure procedures for any field office identified as a result of the application of such guidelines or the initiation of such procedures.
Requirements for closure of Social Security Administration field offices
Office closure and service continuity proposal
In any case where the Commissioner has identified an Administration field office for possible closure as a result of the application of the financial guidelines developed under section 4 and decides to initiate procedures to close that field office, the Commissioner shall develop an office closure and service continuity proposal for the office that contains the following information:
The financial justification for the proposed office closure, with estimated savings in costs relating to real estate, labor, and miscellaneous expenses.
The estimated cost of the office closure.
Data for monthly customer traffic at the office.
The location of the two nearest Administration field offices that would remain open after the office closure.
The estimated travel time, by private vehicle and public transit, from the Administration field office proposed for closure and the two nearest Administration field offices that would remain open after the office closure.
The steps the Administration plans to take to mitigate any hardship created by the office closure.
The names and addresses of governmental agencies and community organizations to be notified in accordance with subsection (b).
The postal and electronic addresses for which public comments may be sent in accordance with subsection (c).
Notices required prior to final closure decision
Not less than 90 days prior to the proposed closure date for an Administration field office, the Commissioner shall—
provide copies of the office closure and service continuity proposal developed for the Administration field office to—
the chief executive office of the State in which field office proposed for closure is located;
the chief executive officers for the county and city government jurisdictions in which the field office proposed for closure is located; and
the head of the social services agencies that receive Federal funds that are located within a 10-mile radius of the field office proposed for closure;
publish the proposal in newspapers whose circulation area includes areas served by the field office proposed for closure; and
broadcast the proposal over Federally licensed radio stations whose broadcast area includes areas served by the field office proposed for closure.
The Commissioner shall maintain records of the dates on which the notices, publications, and broadcasts required under paragraph (1) are made.
Public comment required prior to final closure decision
The Commissioner shall hold at least 1 hearing at which public comments may be made prior making any final decision to close an Administration field office. The Commissioner also shall provide postal and electronic addresses for which written comments regarding the proposed closure may be submitted.
The date and time for the public comment hearing on the proposed closure of an Administration field office shall be included in the notices, publications, and broadcasts required under subsection (b).
The public comment hearing shall be held at least 21 days after notice of the date and time for the hearing is made in accordance with paragraph (2) and at least 60 days prior to the proposed closure date for the Administration field office.
The Regional Commissioner for the region in which the Administration field office proposed for closure is located shall attend the public comment hearing. Only in cases where Regional Commissioner is, in good faith, unable to attend the hearing, may a designated representative attend the public comment hearing in lieu of the Regional Commissioner.
The public comment hearing shall be conducted as follows:
The hearing shall begin with a presentation by the Commissioner of the case for closure of the field office.
The hearing shall then provide at least 1 hour following the conclusion of the presentation of the case for closure for comments from elected officials.
Following the conclusion of the period for comment from elected officials, the hearing shall then provide at least 1 hour for comments from the public.
The Commissioner shall maintain a record of the comments provided at the hearing and shall include in the record any written comments received regarding the proposed closure of the field office. The Commissioner shall publish the record on the Administration Web site within 5 days after the conclusion of the public comment hearing.
Final closure decision
The Commissioner shall issue a final closure decision regarding an Administration field office only after review of the comments received regarding the closure and evaluation of any alternatives to closing the office that are made at the public comment hearing or through written submission.
Notice of the Commissioner's final closure decision with respect to an Administration field office shall be published on the Administration Web site and shall be distributed, published, and broadcast in the same manner as notice of the office closure and service continuity proposal is made under subsection (b).
Decision to close
If the Commissioner's final closure decision is to close a field office, the Commissioner shall amend the office closure and service continuity proposal for the field office to incorporate additional information obtained during the public comment period.
Notice of the Commissioner's final closing decision shall be provided at least 45 days prior to a closing date for a field office.
The Commissioner shall continue to operate an Administration field office proposed for closure in good faith and with the assumption of continued service, until notice of the Commissioner's final closure decision is made. The Commissioner shall not take any action to close an Administration field office prior to providing notice of the Commissioner's final closure decision, including—
terminating or providing notice to terminate any real estate lease, rental, or similar arrangement;
concluding agreements with collective bargaining units related to the office closure;
making expenditures related to the proposed office closure, except those necessary to fulfill the requirements of this Act; and
entering into contracts related to the proposed office closure, except those necessary to fulfill the process requirements of this Act.
Extensions of time for closure
The Commissioner may—
toll any time periods for action established by this Act, provided that an equivalent delay in the proposed closing date is made; and
delay the proposed closing date for an Administration field office at any time in the closing process, including, if the final closure decision is to close the office, after making that decision.
Non-applicability to disposal of real property related to closed offices
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prevent or delay the speedy disposal of surplus Government real property, including any Administration field offices closed in accordance with the requirements of this Act.