Report: SSA changes comms to back Bush

WASHINGTON: A House Government Reform Committee minority staff report released last week accuses the Social Security Administration (SSA) of changing its communications strategy to corroborate President Bush's claims that Social Security is in crisis.

WASHINGTON: A House Government Reform Committee minority staff report released last week accuses the Social Security Administration (SSA) of changing its communications strategy to corroborate President Bush's claims that Social Security is in crisis.

According to the report, the agency has systematically altered news releases, website content, and annual statements to give the impression that the program is in need of change.

"The job of the SSA is to run the Social Security program, not provide political cover for [the] President," wrote Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) in a statement. "The agency has sacrificed its independence and abandoned its tradition of nonpartisan administration of Social Security."

The report claims, for example, that agency press releases on the future of Social Security have become more dire, even as projections for its solvency have improved.

In addition, a booklet on Social Security's future previously began with, "Will Social Security be there for you? Absolutely." A later version reads, "Social Security must change."

SSA responded to the report with a statement from Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart.

"This report is an attempt to paint a picture that is a gross misrepresentation of our continuing efforts to educate the public," the statement read. "Any suggestion that Social Security shrink from its responsibility to inform the public is misguided."

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department announced last week that it was forming its own "war room," dubbed the Social Security Information Center, to better organize message strategy.

Neither the Treasury nor the White House returned calls.

Liberal groups have also mobilized by forming Americans United to Protect Social Security, which a spokesman says will spend $30 million to stop reform.

The group is run by Paul Tewes, former political director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Steve Hildebrand, who ran former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) re-election campaign.

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