Meet Michael D. Robinson! Michael is the Assistant Inspector General for Investigations for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Social Security Administration and a May 2016 graduate of Villanova’s Master of Public Administration Program. In the same month he received his MPA from Villanova, Robinson appeared in a Nightline feature on the OIG’s efforts to detect and prevent Social Security fraud.
Robinson recently spoke to the Leader’s Lounge about the Nightline interview and his Villanova experience.
1) What was the Nightline story about and what was your involvement?
Nightline was working on a story about Social Security disability fraud, and the show’s producers became interested in a case conducted by our special agents near Albany, New York.
The feature explains the case and our investigation very well. The subject of the case, John Caltabiano, claimed he was blind, was severely limited and could not work, and he needed Social Security disability and New York State worker’s compensation payments. However, investigators were suspicious Caltabiano exaggerated the degree of his vision impairment. Later, they observed him shopping, exercising, tanning, and even driving without assistance.
As a result, Caltabiano was charged with Social Security fraud and government theft, and last October, a jury found him guilty of the scheme after a two-week trial. Then in April, as Nightline was working on the story, a judge sentenced Caltabiano to 57 months in prison and ordered him to repay more than $27,000 to Social Security. Caltabiano has a criminal history, which the judge considered in his sentence.
Soon after the sentencing, Nightline asked to speak with me for the story. In late April, I spoke with show producers about the Caltabiano case and the OIG’s anti-fraud efforts, noting that the investigation was indicative of the excellent work our special agents do every day, across the country.
We thought working with Nightline would be effective outreach. We could explain to the public who we are and what we do, and we could deter others who might defraud Social Security by showing that we investigate these cases, and that there are strict penalties for Social Security fraud. You can view the Nightline story at this link.
2) What are your responsibilities with the Social Security Office of the Inspector General?
I direct all OIG investigative activity related to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in SSA’s programs and operations. I oversee three Headquarters Divisions in Baltimore, Maryland, and 10 Field Divisions throughout the country (the New York Field Division, for example, investigated Caltabiano), which encompass about 80 offices, including locations in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and all U.S. Territories.
I work with an outstanding staff of about 320 employees, comprised of mostly special agents who have statutory law enforcement authority. We also have information technology specialists, digital forensic technicians, investigations analysts, criminal research specialists, and other support personnel. In addition, we operate the Cooperative Disability Investigations program, which is comprised of State and local law enforcement partners and support staff.
We take very seriously our responsibility to have a positive effect on the the long-term preservation and solvency of Social Security’s programs, which currently provide about $930 billion a year to about 67 million people.
To give you a sense of our investigative workload, last year, we opened and closed more than 8,000 cases, and our investigations led to more than 1,200 criminal convictions. Additionally, our investigative efforts contributed to more than $225 million in monetary achievements, including court-ordered restitution and Social Security recoveries.
3) That’s incredibly impressive! Lastly, how has your Villanova MPA experience helped you in your career?
The Villanova MPA experience has been very influential and served as a valuable reminder of how much we should appreciate serving others. I learned so much from experienced professors and enriching material, and I made use of my fellow students’ intellectual capital. In class, I interacted with many smart and accomplished people, who were willing to share and discuss their professional experiences. Overall, it was a very humbling and inspiring time.
As I matriculated through the MPA program, the training I received drove many of my professional decisions. Specifically, from my studies, I established in the Office of Investigations internal working groups to improve employee engagement and organizational transparency. Some of this stemmed from the lessons learned in my Public Personnel Management course, when classmates discussed their desire to work for organizations that promoted inclusion by building trust through transparency. In courses like Organization Theory and Leadership Ethics, Father Jacobs reminded me that it was important to know and understand where you focus your organization’s money and time, because that’s where your values are.
The Research and Analysis course exposed the value of statistics, showing the importance of knowing when and how to use data to drive decisions to strengthen your organization for the long term. In turn, the information gleaned from this challenging course has helped us make decisions about where we should hire people, what training we should provide to employees, and what types of features we should include in our new case management system. Also, my staff is establishing an Electronic Intelligence Center so that we can better understand what internal and external data means to us and how it can improve our service to the public.
One of the most important lessons was that leaders have to find ways to do what’s right for their staff, organization, and stakeholders. The program also reemphasized that there’s so much to learn and there’s so much I don’t know. However, it’s important for leaders to understand that people are concerned more about how much you care than about how much you know.
Ultimately, the MPA program taught me to keep striving to improve as a leader, regardless of where you appear on the organizational chart. Finally, no matter how much training you already have, there is always room for growth. I can say with confidence that I grew at Villanova.