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Interview with Ruth Pierce, deputy commissioner for human resources, Social Security Administration, Department of Health and Human Services.
Ruth Pierce's career at the Social Security Administration (SSA) was launched by a desire to change climates: she wanted warmer temperatures and a new work environment. After college she spent two years working as a financial manager at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, then moved to San Diego, CA. She took the Federal Service Entrance Exam (FSEE) in 1965, the year Congress passed Medicare legislation. The Social Security Administration was busily rounding up qualified individuals to handle the new workload. Ms. Pierce fit the bill. Since her first SSA job in Los Angeles, she has been asking questions, pushing for change, and working to make SSA even more of a top quality organization.
Bates: Why did you choose a public service career?
In college I trained to be a teacher, but after a semester of practice teaching in my junior year I realized I was not cut out for that job. After graduation, I went to work at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center because that's where everyone in my hometown (Waukegan, IL) went to work. I didn't have any great career aspirations at that point, but in 1964 I decided to transfer to the Navy's San Diego office. I didn't know a soul in California but I knew I wanted to escape the cold Illinois winters.
I took the FSEE exam in 1965 and was hired by the Social Security Administration, along with hundreds of other people, to handle the Medicare workload.
B: What did you do as a newly-recruited SSA employee?
I was selected for SSA's claims representative training class. On the first day of class I found I was the only black person in the group. When I looked at the list of SSA offices that had vacancies and saw the Watts District Office on the list, my first thought was, "Oh that's why they picked me for this class." All I knew about Watts was what I'd seen on television coverage of the riots. I made a silent promise to myself: "I'm not going to Watts." When I learned that students graduating at the top of the class …