oversight

SSA Benefit Estimate Statements: Additional Data Needed to Improve Workload Management

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-05-20.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee
                  on Social Security, Committee on Ways
                  and Means, House of Representatives


May 1997
                  SSA BENEFIT ESTIMATE
                  STATEMENTS
                  Additional Data Needed to
                  Improve Workload
                  Management




GAO/HEHS-97-101
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Health, Education, and
      Human Services Division

      B-266284

      May 20, 1997

      The Honorable Jim Bunning
      Chairman, Subcommittee on Social Security
      Committee on Ways and Means
      House of Representatives

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      The Congress enacted legislation in 1990 requiring that the Social Security
      Administration (SSA) begin providing the public with annual statements
      about its Social Security earnings records and estimates of the amount of
      benefits individuals may receive. These statements, called Personal
      Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statements (PEBES), have been available to
      the public upon request since 1988; however, the legislation required SSA to
      start sending these statements automatically in fiscal year 1995 to workers
      reaching age 60 and older. Starting in fiscal year 2000, SSA must mail the
      PEBES annually to nearly every U.S. worker aged 25 and older—an
      estimated 123 million people. SSA projects that this effort will cost almost
      $77 million in fiscal year 2000 alone, including $48 million for production
      costs, such as printing and mailing the statement, and $29 million for
      personnel costs.

      The PEBES supplies workers with information about their earnings as
      recorded by SSA and their eligibility for Social Security retirement,
      survivors, and disability benefits. In addition, the statement provides
      estimates of these benefits and explains Social Security programs,
      instructing individuals to call SSA if they have questions or believe their
      earnings information is incorrect. The public depends on SSA to maintain
      accurate earnings records because individuals’ benefits are based on these
      records. Most of SSA’s PEBES work involves handling the public’s questions
      and making necessary corrections to individual earnings records.

      As SSA implements the PEBES requirements, it is facing increasing
      responsibilities in many other areas as well. By the year 2015, when baby
      boomers begin entering their mid-60s, the number of individuals receiving
      benefits will reach an estimated 50.4 million, a much larger number than
      the 37.4 million individuals receiving Social Security retirement and
      survivors benefits in 1995. Meanwhile, the Congress and SSA have begun to
      emphasize providing the public with service that is timely, accurate, and
      courteous. In the current fiscal environment, SSA is struggling to manage
      its growing workloads and responsibilities with fewer resources.




      Page 1                        GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                   B-266284




                   Concerned about the success of the PEBES initiative, you asked us to
                   examine SSA’s progress in implementing the PEBES requirements. In our
                   previous PEBES testimony and report, we addressed how effectively the
                   PEBES conveys information to the public and the reasonableness of its
                   benefit estimates.1 This report addresses the PEBES’s impact on SSA’s
                   work—specifically, how well SSA has prepared for the increasing workload
                   resulting from implementing the PEBES requirements and whether SSA’s
                   PEBES management and performance could be improved. To perform our
                   review, we examined the results of the tests SSA used to estimate its future
                   work requirements, SSA’s PEBES budget, and workload statistics from 1995
                   and 1996. In addition, we met with SSA officials from the PEBES project and
                   retirement benefits experts. We also met with SSA staff who respond to
                   public inquiries and observed them as they answered almost 100 telephone
                   calls. We conducted our work from October 1996 to March 1997 in
                   accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.


                   SSA officials believe they will be able to handle the increasing work
Results in Brief   expected to result from the PEBES initiative; however, they lack enough
                   information upon which to base this conclusion. Even though SSA has
                   made two test mailings to estimate the effects of sending mandated
                   statements and has more than 2 years’ experience in mailing the PEBES, the
                   agency has not collected reliable data on either the number of people who
                   call or visit SSA with PEBES questions or the number of earnings corrections
                   resulting from the PEBES mailings.

                   SSA  could better manage the potential workload resulting from the PEBES
                   initiative if it began now to collect more complete and accurate data on
                   the effects of mailing the mandated statements. With these data, the
                   agency could monitor the volume of work, assess the adequacy of its
                   implementation plans, and have an early warning of problems so that it
                   could adjust its plans before service to the public would be impeded. For
                   example, if SSA would find that it needs additional staff to answer
                   telephone calls, it may need lead time to install more telephones and train
                   additional staff. Without adequate advance warning to complete these
                   activities, callers may have to endure longer waiting times. Moreover,
                   better data on the reasons people call and the problems they are having
                   with their PEBES would provide SSA with valuable information to help
                   improve the statement.


                   1
                    SSA Benefit Statements: Statements Are Well Received by the Public but Difficult to Comprehend
                   (GAO/T-HEHS-96-210, Sept. 12, 1996) and SSA Benefit Statements: Well Received by the Public but
                   Difficult to Comprehend (GAO/HEHS-97-19, Dec. 5, 1996).



                   Page 2                                  GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                                  B-266284




                                  The Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Acts of 1989 and 1990 require SSA
Background                        to provide most workers aged 25 and older with annual unsolicited PEBES
                                  statements starting in fiscal year 2000.2 The PEBES supplies information to
                                  workers on their year-by-year earnings as recorded by SSA, their eligibility
                                  for Social Security retirement, survivors, and disability benefits, and the
                                  estimated dollar amount of these benefits.3 The statement also describes
                                  Social Security programs and benefits.4 The legislation requires that SSA
                                  mail the PEBES according to the schedule shown in table 1.

Table 1: PEBES Mandated Mailing
Requirements and Schedule                                                Individuals to receive
                                  Fiscal year                            PEBES                             SSA’s volume estimates
                                  1995                                   Age 60 and over                   6.7 milliona
                                  1996-1999                              Turning 60 during the year        1.6 to 1.8 million annually
                                  2000 and beyond                        Age 25 and older                  123 million annually
                                  a
                                      This is SSA’s total of mandated statements actually mailed in fiscal year 1995.



                                  SSA officials have, however, modified this schedule to better manage the
                                  impending workload. SSA assumes that individuals are most likely to
                                  contact the agency with questions or earnings corrections when they
                                  receive their first mandated PEBES because in many cases this will be the
                                  first time they have received a notice from SSA. Therefore, SSA officials
                                  decided to mail a larger number of statements earlier than fiscal year 2000
                                  to distribute the work involved in first-time mailings over several years.
                                  Under SSA’s accelerated schedule, more than 70 million individuals will
                                  receive their first PEBES before fiscal year 2000, leaving just over 50 million
                                  to receive their first PEBES in fiscal year 2000. Table 2 compares the volume
                                  of statements to be mailed according to SSA’s accelerated mailing schedule
                                  with that to be mailed according to the mandated mailing schedule as
                                  required by the PEBES legislation.




                                  2
                                   The 1989 act required SSA to send a PEBES every 2 years to those who have a Social Security
                                  number, have wages or net earnings from self-employment, are not currently receiving Social Security
                                  benefits, and have a current address obtainable by SSA. The act was amended in 1990 to require annual
                                  mailing of these statements.
                                  3
                                   The legislation requires estimates of retirement benefits only for individuals aged 50 and older. SSA,
                                  however, has chosen to provide retirement benefit estimates to individuals of all ages to simplify the
                                  preparation of the statements.
                                  4
                                   App. I contains a copy of a 1996 PEBES, which has been slightly reduced to fit on the page.



                                  Page 3                                      GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                                       B-266284




Table 2: Comparison of SSA’s Mailing
Volume Estimates for the Mandated      In millions
and Accelerated Schedules                                                                 Fiscal year
                                                                                                                                    2000 and
                                                          1995a           1996            1997            1998           1999        beyond
                                       Mandated              6.7             1.6            1.7             1.8             1.8         123.0
                                       Acceleratedb          6.7             5.0           10.0           20.0            30.0          123.0
                                       a
                                        For fiscal year 1995, SSA mailed a PEBES only to those required by the mandated schedule,
                                       individuals turning age 60 or older.
                                       b
                                        The accelerated schedule began in fiscal year 1996, when SSA mailed a PEBES to individuals
                                       turning age 60, as mandated, as well as those turning age 58 and 59 during the year. As SSA
                                       continues the accelerated schedule in subsequent years, it will mail a PEBES to increasingly
                                       younger people until people as young as 25 receive a PEBES in fiscal year 2000.



                                       SSA’s goals for the PEBES include to (1) better inform the public of potential
                                       benefits under SSA’s programs, (2) help individuals plan for their financial
                                       futures, and (3) help individuals ensure that their Social Security earnings
                                       records are complete and accurate. Accurate records are important
                                       because both an individual’s eligibility for benefits and the amount of
                                       benefits are based on the earnings recorded by SSA. Without the PEBES,
                                       individuals would most likely learn of inaccuracies in their earnings
                                       records5 only when they file a claim for benefits. By reviewing their PEBES,
                                       however, individuals can identify problems with their earnings records
                                       earlier. This early identification is thought to be less time consuming for
                                       SSA and the public because the information needed to correct the problem,
                                       such as a copy of the W-2 form showing the earnings in question, is more
                                       likely to be readily available closer to the time earnings are reported to
                                       SSA.



The PEBES Process                      Individuals have been able to request a PEBES from SSA since 1988, and
                                       about four million people have done so each year.6 Therefore, as SSA began
                                       its preparations for the unsolicited mailings, it had some experience with
                                       issuing relatively small numbers of the PEBES to serve as a basis for the
                                       larger mailings. The work of mailing the PEBES falls into two categories:

                                       5
                                        Overall, the chance of SSA’s incorrectly recording a wage is slight. According to SSA’s Accountability
                                       Report for Fiscal Year 1996, 99 percent of reported earnings are posted accurately to individuals’
                                       records. This accuracy rate, however, still results in more than 2 million in earnings items each year
                                       that cannot be linked to specific individuals’ records.
                                       6
                                        To enable individuals who request a PEBES to more easily obtain one, SSA began providing the
                                       statement through the Internet in March 1997. This immediately raised privacy and security concerns,
                                       prompting SSA to suspend the service. For more information on this issue, see Social Security
                                       Administration: Internet Access to Personal Earnings and Benefits Information
                                       (GAO/T-AIMD/HEHS-97-123, May 6, 1997).



                                       Page 4                                      GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                                   B-266284




                                   (1) steps taken before the statements are mailed and (2) steps resulting
                                   from mailing the statements. Figure 1 depicts the process SSA uses to issue
                                   the PEBES.



Figure 1: The PEBES Work Process




                                   Page 5                        GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                         B-266284




                         Most of the work done before mailing the PEBES is computerized or
                         contracted out. For example, SSA uses its computers to compile
                         information from each individual’s earnings record and calculate the
                         benefit estimate. SSA then electronically transmits this information to a
                         contractor for printing and mailing the statements. After individuals
                         receive the statements, those who have questions or discover problems
                         with their earnings as recorded may contact SSA. Unlike the work required
                         before mailing the PEBES, responding to these questions and earnings
                         problems can be time consuming and labor intensive.

                         Individuals who have questions or problems about their PEBES have
                         options for contacting SSA: calling SSA’s national 800 number, which is
                         answered at 1 of the 37 teleservice centers; calling or visiting one of SSA’s
                         1,300 field offices; or calling a PEBES-specific 800 number, which is
                         answered by staff in the Division of Certification and Coverage (DCC) of
                         the Office of Central Records Operations (OCRO). OCRO maintains records
                         of individuals’ earnings and prepares benefit computations. The PEBES-
                         specific 800 number appears in the statement to encourage PEBES
                         recipients to contact SSA through DCC; however, individuals also can and do
                         contact the teleservice centers and field offices7 with PEBES questions.

                         Workers in all of these offices can answer public inquiries, which range
                         from simple questions about the reason SSA sends out the statement to
                         detailed questions about SSA’s programs and benefits. In addition, when
                         individuals identify earnings problems, workers can sometimes resolve
                         them during the initial contact with the individual. Other earnings
                         problems, however, are more time consuming. For example, if the
                         earnings occurred before 1978, SSA staff may have to manually search
                         through older records on microfiche to identify the problem, or SSA may
                         have to wait for the individual to document the earnings in question to
                         correct the problem.


                         Although SSA officials believe the agency will be able to handle the
SSA Lacks                increasing work likely to result from the PEBES initiative, they lack
Information Needed       sufficient information to ensure that SSA is fully prepared for this
to Effectively Prepare   workload. Specifically, SSA has not collected reliable data on either the
                         number of people who contact SSA with questions about the PEBES or the
for Future PEBES         number of earnings corrections resulting from the PEBES mailings.
Workload

                         7
                          As required by the Congress, many of the field office numbers are listed in the telephone book.



                         Page 6                                    GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                           B-266284




SSA Lacks Information on   SSA officials believe they will be able to handle the work expected from
the Results of the PEBES   future PEBES mailings; however, in making this assessment, SSA has relied
Mailings                   on information that is less complete and useful than it could be. To
                           estimate the effects of the mandated PEBES mailings on its staffing and
                           operations, SSA conducted two tests. The first test, completed in 1994,
                           tracked the work resulting from mailing the PEBES to a sample of more
                           than half a million individuals aged 26 through 65. In conducting this test,
                           however, SSA did not collect reliable data on the number of people who
                           contacted SSA with questions about the PEBES or the reasons for these
                           inquiries. SSA asked workers in the field offices and teleservice centers to
                           manually tally the inquiries resulting from the test mailings, but some SSA
                           officials expressed doubt about the accuracy of data collected using this
                           approach. They said that manual tallies often do not provide SSA with
                           dependable information. For example, officials told us that they believed
                           these staff did not consistently record all PEBES-related contacts and some
                           staff included other types of contacts in their tallies. SSA collected data on
                           the volume of calls DCC handled through its telephone system; however, it
                           could not identify how many of these inquiries were related to the test
                           mailings.

                           The second test was designed, in part, to estimate the effect on the volume
                           of inquiries of mailing the PEBES to the same individuals 2 years in a row.
                           This information should help SSA test its assumption that people are most
                           likely to contact the agency about their PEBES the first time they receive a
                           statement. On the basis of this assumption, SSA believes that the PEBES
                           workload will peak in fiscal year 2000 and quickly plateau at a lower level.
                           If SSA’s assumption is correct, then its strategy of mailing a PEBES to more
                           than half the individuals targeted to receive a PEBES before fiscal year 2000
                           will indeed help distribute the work over the next few years, and the PEBES
                           workload will decrease quickly after fiscal year 2000. On the other hand, if
                           SSA’s assumption is incorrect, it will be harder to predict when the volume
                           of PEBES work will level off or begin to decrease. Consequently, staff that
                           SSA assumes will be available for other work after fiscal year 2000 would
                           still be needed to do the PEBES work. Although the test was conducted in
                           1995, SSA has yet to complete its analysis—nearly 2 years after collecting
                           the needed data.

                           Now that SSA has begun mailing the PEBES under its mandated and
                           accelerated schedules, it can monitor the actual impact of the PEBES
                           mailings on its operations. As with the test mailings, however, SSA is not
                           collecting sufficient data on the volume of and reasons for the PEBES
                           inquiries from the workers who deal directly with the public. As with the



                           Page 7                          GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                           B-266284




                           first test, SSA has collected data on the volume of calls handled through
                           DCC’s telephone system, but it cannot identify the number of such calls that
                           relate to the mandated PEBES. In addition, neither the 800-number
                           teleservice representatives nor field office personnel track the volume of
                           PEBES-related inquiries they receive.


                           Moreover, SSA cannot determine the number of earnings corrections
                           resulting from the PEBES mailings. SSA staff at teleservice centers, field
                           offices, and DCC may make earnings corrections for different reasons,
                           some of which do not relate to the PEBES mailings. For example, when the
                           computer records new earnings in individual earnings records, the
                           program used to enter the data also identifies potential problems. SSA staff
                           then review these potential problems in the earnings records and make
                           corrections if needed. Although SSA collects data on the total number of
                           earnings corrections made agencywide, it cannot differentiate
                           PEBES-related corrections from corrections made for other reasons.



SSA Cannot Be Sure It Is   Because SSA has not fully tested or monitored the PEBES’s impact, the
Prepared for Future        agency does not know whether it will be able to effectively manage the
PEBES Work                 impending PEBES work. According to its fiscal year 1998 budget, SSA would
                           continue to direct most—an estimated 80 percent—of the PEBES work to
                           DCC through fiscal year 2001. The budget projects that the number of DCC
                           employees needed to complete this work will grow from 88 of its current
                           830 employees in fiscal year 1997 to an estimated 560 in fiscal year 2000,
                           when SSA begins mailing 123 million mandated statements per year.8 SSA
                           officials told us, however, that they recognize that DCC, as early as fiscal
                           year 1999, will not be able to absorb all of the future PEBES work while also
                           performing all of its other duties.

                           In response to this situation, agency officials plan to shift some of the
                           PEBES work to other units; however, they have not developed an explicit
                           time table for this nor have they decided where to shift this work. To make
                           this decision, SSA officials would have to compare the demands of the
                           PEBES work with the ongoing work of other units. For example, SSA is
                           considering directing the PEBES work to the teleservice centers by
                           changing the telephone number listed on the PEBES to the national 800
                           number. Yet, as we have found in our ongoing work, staff answering the
                           national 800 number have struggled to keep pace with the rapidly growing
                           call volumes, and SSA has initiated steps to improve callers’ access and

                           8
                            The budget refers to work-years, which in this context equals roughly the number of SSA employees
                           required to complete this work.



                           Page 8                                  GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                       B-266284




                       reduce waiting times.9 If SSA directs the PEBES calls to the national 800
                       number without better data on the actual volume of PEBES-related calls it
                       anticipates, it may overburden the teleservice centers and diminish the
                       national 800 number’s level of service.

                       Moreover, SSA needs to begin collecting complete data on the volume of
                       PEBES inquiries now to allow sufficient lead time to prepare for any shift in
                       handling the PEBES work. For example, if additional staff are needed to
                       answer telephone calls, these staff may need training on the PEBES
                       requirements or on answering PEBES-related questions. In addition, SSA may
                       need to install more telephones or related support equipment. If lead time
                       to complete these activities is insufficient, callers may have to endure
                       longer waiting times and poor service once they reach a telephone
                       representative.

                       Finally, the option of shifting work to other units does not account for the
                       possible need for additional help for the field offices. If field offices
                       receive more calls or visitors due to the PEBES than they can handle, their
                       levels of service may suffer. Several field office managers told us that
                       relatively few PEBES recipients have contacted their office with questions
                       to date, but some expressed concern about what they believe will be a
                       likely increase in calls and visits to their offices in fiscal year 2000.


                       SSA could improve implementation of the PEBES initiative by collecting
Collecting and Using   more complete data on the volume of and reasons for work resulting from
Key Data Could         the PEBES mailings. Better data on the reasons for inquiries resulting from
Improve PEBES’s        PEBES mailings could also help SSA improve the statement by identifying
                       parts of the statement that do not communicate clearly.
Workload
Management
Improving PEBES        More complete data on the effects of mandatory PEBES mailings would help
Implementation         SSA determine these mailings’ potential impact on its operations, monitor
                       its ability to manage this growing workload, and make timely adjustments
                       to its implementation plans if needed. These data would help SSA decide
                       when and where to shift the PEBES work as it becomes too much for DCC to
                       handle. Specifically, SSA could collect more complete data on the number
                       of people who contact the agency with PEBES questions, the reasons for
                       their calls and visits, and the number of corrections made to earnings


                       9
                       Social Security Administration: More Cost-Effective Approaches Exist to Further Improve 800-
                       Number Service (GAO/HEHS-97-79, forthcoming report).



                       Page 9                                  GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                  B-266284




                  records as a result of the PEBES mailings. For example, SSA could
                  systematically collect more detailed data from the DCC telephone staff who
                  have regular contact with the public. By making minor revisions to the
                  types of data staff collect for each telephone call, SSA could identify both
                  the number of calls that relate to the mandated mailings and the number
                  that result in earnings corrections. In addition, SSA could begin to collect
                  data on the number of PEBES-related calls to the national 800-number
                  representatives.10 SSA could also consider collecting more detailed data on
                  earnings corrections to allow it to differentiate PEBES-related corrections
                  from corrections made for other reasons.

                  Information on the workload effects of the mandatory mailings could also
                  indicate the need for more fundamental changes. For example, if SSA finds
                  it has underestimated the volume of work resulting from PEBES mailings
                  and it cannot handle this work without diminishing other services to the
                  public, one option would be to pursue actions to permit mailing the
                  statements less often. This would, however, require congressional action.
                  Although most private pension programs mail yearly statements to their
                  participants, none mails to 123 million people. We asked several benefit
                  experts for their opinions on how often the PEBES should be mailed to
                  individuals, but we found no consensus. Some believe that the PEBES
                  should be mailed annually, while others believe that a less frequent
                  mailing schedule would be adequate. SSA received more consensus from
                  the public on this subject. The majority of those responding to two public
                  opinion surveys conducted by SSA replied that they would be satisfied with
                  less frequent than annual PEBES mailings. For example, if SSA adopted a
                  3-year staggered cycle, it would mail approximately 41 million statements
                  a year in fiscal year 2000 and beyond rather than the projected 123 million
                  annual statements currently planned. This approach would also reduce the
                  estimated annual $48 million of production costs by one-third.


Improving PEBES   In addition to aiding SSA by providing early warnings of future problems,
Redesign Effort   more detailed and complete information on the volume of and reasons for
                  inquiries resulting from PEBES mailings could be used to help SSA ensure
                  that the PEBES communicates information to the public clearly and
                  effectively. We concluded in our December 1996 PEBES report that the
                  current statement does not clearly convey some of the complex benefit
                  and program information it contains. For example, PEBES 800-number

                  10
                     The number of PEBES-related calls could be obtained as part of a larger effort to gather detailed
                  information on the reasons people call the national 800 number. In our forthcoming report on SSA’s
                  national 800-number service, we discuss the benefits of collecting more detailed data, which SSA could
                  use to better and more cost-effectively serve the public.



                  Page 10                                  GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
                      B-266284




                      telephone representatives told us that the public often asks questions
                      about the PEBES’s explanation of family benefits.11 These benefits are hard
                      to explain because their amounts depend on several factors. We
                      recommended that SSA revise the PEBES to improve its layout and design
                      and to simplify explanations. We also concluded that SSA can ensure that
                      its current redesign project targets the most significant weaknesses by
                      systematically obtaining more detailed information on the volume of and
                      reasons for PEBES inquiries being handled by the workers who deal directly
                      with the public. Information on the reasons for these inquiries could help
                      SSA better determine which parts of the statement pose problems for
                      recipients. Clarifying the PEBES could help to prevent unnecessary
                      inquiries, reducing some of the future PEBES work. In response to our
                      findings, SSA has recently begun collecting more detailed information on
                      the reasons for calls DCC handles. SSA’s current redesign effort is expected
                      to produce a new PEBES for the 1999 mailings.


                      The PEBES will be sent to nearly every U.S. worker aged 25 and older in
Conclusions           fiscal year 2000 and beyond; yet SSA has not taken the necessary steps to
                      ensure that it is fully prepared for the potential workload. For SSA to better
                      manage the PEBES initiative and increase the likelihood of its success, the
                      agency needs to collect more complete data on the number of people who
                      contact SSA with questions about the PEBES, the reasons for their calls and
                      visits, and the number of corrections made to earnings records as a result
                      of the PEBES mailings. SSA needs to begin now to collect this information so
                      that it has enough time to make any adjustments for handling the PEBES
                      workload without compromising service to the public. In addition, SSA
                      needs to begin using these data in its current effort to redesign the PEBES
                      for its 1999 statement.


                      To better manage the PEBES initiative, we recommend that SSA
Recommendation to     systematically collect more detailed feedback from the workers who deal
the Commissioner of   directly with the public on the number of and reasons for PEBES inquiries
Social Security       and more detailed information on the number of earnings corrections
                      specifically linked to the PEBES mailings.


                      In commenting on a draft of this report (see app. II), SSA said that it
Agency Comments       believes its current approach enables it to effectively monitor the PEBES
and Our Evaluation
                      11
                       SSA uses the term “family benefits” to refer to benefits paid to a worker’s spouse or young children
                      when the worker is retired or disabled.



                      Page 11                                   GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
B-266284




workload and assess the need for any changes in the process. SSA stated
that it has had 2 full years of experience with the PEBES workload and
believes that the data it currently collects on the number of PEBES-related
inquiries and earnings corrections are sufficient to project likely future
work.

We still believe, however, that SSA officials lack sufficient information to
ensure that SSA is fully prepared for the PEBES workload and that the
agency could better manage the potential workload with more complete
and accurate data on the effects of mailing the mandated statements.
Although SSA does collect data on certain aspects of the PEBES work, these
data are either not detailed enough or do not accurately reflect work
resulting from mandated PEBES mailings. For example, SSA officials stated
that the data collected from both the PEBES-specific 800 number and SSA’s
system for reviewing a sample of national 800-number calls provide
enough information to project the future PEBES-related inquiry workload.
SSA cannot identify, however, how many PEBES-specific 800-number calls
relate to the mandated PEBES mailings and how many calls result in
earnings corrections. SSA officials also stated that the data SSA collects on
the number of earnings corrections completed before a worker files a
claim for benefits can be used to project the impact of mailing the PEBES by
comparing the past volume of earnings corrections with current and future
volumes. As we reported, however, the data SSA collects on this type of
earnings correction also include corrections made for other reasons,
making it hard to isolate the effect of the PEBES mailings. SSA officials
stated that they would be interested in reviewing our suggestions about
specific data elements that could be collected to help estimate future
PEBES work. We will work with SSA personnel to provide specific
suggestions.

In addition, SSA stated that its current technology provides the flexibility to
direct the flow of PEBES-related work without adversely affecting service to
the public or burdening any single operations component. We agree that
SSA can shift the PEBES work by redirecting the telephone calls resulting
from the PEBES mailings. Given SSA’s emphasis on serving the public and
improving its national 800-number service, however, more complete data
on the volume of the PEBES workload will enable SSA to better monitor the
impact of the work on its operating units and make timely and well-
planned shifts to other units before service to the public would be
compromised.




Page 12                         GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
B-266284




Finally, SSA agreed that redesigning the PEBES form is necessary and
reported that it has already begun taking steps to improve the statement.


We are sending copies of this report to the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security and other interested parties. Copies will also be made available to
others on request. If you or your staff have any questions about this report,
please call me on (202) 512-7215 or Cynthia Fagnoni, Assistant Director,
on (202) 512-7202. Other major contributors to this report include Kay
Brown, Evaluator-in-Charge; Hans Bredfeldt, Senior Evaluator; and Nora
Landgraf and Elizabeth Jones, Evaluators.

Sincerely yours,




Jane L. Ross
Director, Income Security Issues




Page 13                        GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Contents



Letter                                                                                            1


Appendix I                                                                                       16

Personal Earnings and
Benefit Estimate
Statement
Appendix II                                                                                      22

Comments From the
Social Security
Administration
Tables                  Table 1: PEBES Mandated Mailing Requirements and Schedule                 3
                        Table 2: Comparison of SSA’s Mailing Volume Estimates for the             4
                          Mandated and Accelerated Schedules

Figure                  Figure 1: The PEBES Work Process                                          5




                        Abbreviations

                        DCC       Division of Certification and Coverage
                        OCRO      Office of Central Records Operations
                        PEBES     Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement
                        SSA       Social Security Administration


                        Page 14                      GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Page 15   GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Appendix I

Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate
Statement




               Page 16    GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Appendix I
Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate
Statement




Page 17                            GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Appendix I
Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate
Statement




Page 18                            GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Appendix I
Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate
Statement




Page 19                            GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Appendix I
Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate
Statement




Page 20                            GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Appendix I
Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate
Statement




Page 21                            GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Appendix II

Comments From the Social Security
Administration




              Page 22    GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
           Appendix II
           Comments From the Social Security
           Administration




(105940)   Page 23                             GAO/HEHS-97-101 SSA Needs More Data About PEBES
Ordering Information

The first copy of each GAO report and testimony is free.
Additional copies are $2 each. Orders should be sent to the
following address, accompanied by a check or money order
made out to the Superintendent of Documents, when
necessary. VISA and MasterCard credit cards are accepted, also.
Orders for 100 or more copies to be mailed to a single address
are discounted 25 percent.

Orders by mail:

U.S. General Accounting Office
P.O. Box 6015
Gaithersburg, MD 20884-6015

or visit:

Room 1100
700 4th St. NW (corner of 4th and G Sts. NW)
U.S. General Accounting Office
Washington, DC

Orders may also be placed by calling (202) 512-6000
or by using fax number (301) 258-4066, or TDD (301) 413-0006.

Each day, GAO issues a list of newly available reports and
testimony. To receive facsimile copies of the daily list or any
list from the past 30 days, please call (202) 512-6000 using a
touchtone phone. A recorded menu will provide information on
how to obtain these lists.

For information on how to access GAO reports on the INTERNET,
send an e-mail message with "info" in the body to:

info@www.gao.gov

or visit GAO’s World Wide Web Home Page at:

http://www.gao.gov




PRINTED ON    RECYCLED PAPER
United States                       Bulk Rate
General Accounting Office      Postage & Fees Paid
Washington, D.C. 20548-0001           GAO
                                 Permit No. G100
Official Business
Penalty for Private Use $300

Address Correction Requested