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New Social Security Chief Says Retirement System Can Do ‘More With Less’

July 20, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Dorcas R. Hardy, the first woman to head the Social Security Administration, says she wants to apply conservative administration principles to make the huge retirement system ″a stellar business,″ an effort she expects to face resistance from parts of the bureaucracy.

Ms. Hardy, in an interview with The Associated Press, said that while she expects ″a very loyal workforce″ overall, she anticipates ″exceptions″ within the vast Social Security bureaucracy who will oppose administration policies.

She believes the agency can do ″more with less″ - including 14,000 fewer employees - while still providing efficient and courteous service to its 39 million beneficiaries.

″There are going to be some people who do not like the fact that I am appointed by President Reagan,″ she said. ″There’s going to be people who do not believe we can come down in size. ...

″There are people who just don’t want to change, and I think that Social Security as an institution is in a very critical period of change.

″There’s not going to be 75,000 employees who are going to agree with me every day, and there’s just no doubt about it,″ she said.

But, she added, ″I’m not there to win a popularity contest.″

Ms. Hardy became the nation’s 10th commissioner of Social Security on June 26, taking charge of programs that provide monthly income to more than 39 million Americans at an annual cost of $223 billion.

She took her ceremonial oath of office at the White House on Thursday, the day before her 40th birthday.

In an interview the next day, Ms. Hardy said she wants ″to make Social Security a stellar business,″ providing high quality, personalized service, but with a management underpinned by Reagan administration principles.

Ms. Hardy said she is committed to the administration goal of trimming the Social Security payroll by an additional 14,000 people by 1990 - the staff already has been cut by about 3,600 people since President Reagan took office - but through attrition and without jeopardizing service. She promised to reconsider the cuts if service suffers.

She said she is now trying to develop criteria to judge service levels, but the effort is complicated by her desire to include matters such as friendliness.

″I try to put myself in the role of the beneficiary,″ she said. ″It’s not only waiting in line, it’s the courtesy,″ as well as reliability, accuracy and promptness.

Ms. Hardy said she does not foresee a ″drastic decrease″ in the number of local offices to serve Social Security beneficiaries from the current 1,311.

″I do not have a magic number,″ she said. ″I do not anticipate the closures will be any higher than they have been historically,″ about 12 to 14 a year, usually because of shifting population.

She said she also wants to build public confidence in what she described as a fiscally sound, reliable Social Security system.

Actuarial projections show the Social Security system should be sound well into the next century. But public opinion polls show skepticism, particularly among ″baby boomers″ who will be retiring in 30 or 35 years, that their checks will await them.

But, Ms. Hardy said, ″It’s going to be there, and the dollars that people pay in, they will have the opportunity to have it returned to them.″

Even under the pressure of the ″baby boomer″ retirees, she said, Social Security will be able to provide a pension adequate to meet the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing for those that have no other resources.

But she also said there may be little beyond those basics for those who do not plan for additional retirement resources.

″Social Security was never meant to be the total, absolute, only retirement funding mechanism,″ she said. ″We all have a personal responsibility as well to not depend entirely on Social Security.″

Ms. Hardy, a Harvard-trained health policy specialist, was tapped by Reagan in March to take over Social Security. At the time, she was an assistant secretary in the Health and Human Services Department running the $5.5 billion HHS Office of Human Development Services.

She took the post from Acting Commissioner Martha McSteen, a highly regarded civil servant who held the job on a temporary basis since 1983. Mrs. McSteen was considered for a permanent appointment, but rejected because the White House wanted a political appointee in the post.

Ms. Hardy concurred that a political appointment was justified, but said that did not mean politicization.

″I don’t see the administration of Social Security being politicized regardless,″ she said. ″It’s a question of what we consider politics. ... I see it as a philosophy of management, a philosphy of the way the whole administration is going to be operated. ...

″I’m a political appointee,″ Ms. Hardy said. ″President Reagan appointed me and the Senate confirmed me, and I will lead that agency with my philosphy and the president’s philosophy.″

In a congressional appearance earlier this year as HHS assistant secretary, Ms. Hardy agreed under questioning that some liberal bureaucrats hostile to administration policies subtly tried to sabotage her attempts to implement them.

Asked in the interview if she anticipated a similar problem at Social Security, Ms. Hardy replied: ″Unfortunately, yes. But I do not think it is pervasive, I think it is the exception, (and) I don’t think it’s something that’s unique to the government.″

However, she added, ″that’s not to say that I expect disloyalty. I do not. I expect a very loyal workforce.

″I believe their loyalty is to the system, to the Social Security system, and for that I have tremendous respect. ... They don’t always have to agree with me, but I expect that if I’m loyal to them, I expect the same in return.″

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