oversight

Social Security Administration: Significant Challenges Await New Commissioner

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-02-20.

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

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to the Committee on Finance,
                 U.S. Senate, and the Committee on Ways
                 and Means, House of Representatives


February 1997
                 SOCIAL SECURITY
                 ADMINISTRATION
                 Significant Challenges
                 Await New
                 Commissioner




GAO/HEHS-97-53
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Health, Education, and
      Human Services Division

      B-275889

      February 20, 1997

      The Honorable William V. Roth, Jr.
      Chairman
      The Honorable Daniel Patrick Moynihan
      Ranking Minority Member
      Committee on Finance
      United States Senate

      The Honorable Bill Archer
      Chairman
      The Honorable Charles B. Rangel
      Ranking Minority Member
      Committee on Ways and Means
      House of Representatives

      The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the nation’s largest
      federal program—Social Security—as well as the nation’s largest cash
      welfare program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSA’s expenditures
      totaled $363 billion in fiscal year 1995, nearly one-fourth of the nation’s
      $1.5 trillion federal budget.

      SSA’s programs touch the lives of almost every individual in this country.
      Social Security’s Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability
      Insurance (DI) programs provide benefits to retired and disabled workers
      and their dependents and survivors; SSI provides assistance to the needy
      aged, blind, or disabled. In 1995, 50 million beneficiaries—about one out of
      every five individuals in this country—received benefits from SSA each
      month. With a staff of 65,000, SSA also records the wages of nearly every
      U.S. worker each year and issued almost 17 million Social Security cards
      in 1995. Moreover, SSA maintains a large and visible presence in
      communities nationwide. In 1995 alone, an estimated 24 million people
      visited SSA’s 1,300 field offices, and SSA received 62 million calls on the
      agency’s nationwide toll-free 800 number.

      SSA  recognizes that the American public depends on it to quickly and
      accurately provide benefits, properly record workers’ earnings, and
      effectively safeguard benefit programs from fraud and abuse. Any failure
      to do so seriously undermines the public’s confidence in government and
      its ability to efficiently and cost-effectively administer programs and
      protect taxpayer dollars. Yet as SSA acknowledges, public confidence in its
      programs is low and has been low for some time. Although much of this




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                   lack of confidence stems from concerns about the future solvency of the
                   Social Security system, public confidence also has been eroded by reports
                   of fraud and abuse. Media accounts of problems such as prisoners
                   erroneously receiving disability checks and allegations that immigrants
                   and children are feigning mental illness to obtain SSI undermine the
                   public’s trust in SSA and in the federal government.

                   To bolster SSA’s ability to address critical policy issues and correct
                   programmatic weaknesses, the Congress enacted legislation making SSA
                   independent of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as of
                   March 31, 1995. In establishing SSA’s independence, the Congress
                   recognized the importance of strong and stable leadership for the agency.
                   As we noted in our February 1995 report on SSA’s transition to
                   independence,1 such independence heightens the importance of SSA’s
                   playing a strong leadership role in addressing long-standing problems and
                   preparing for future challenges.

                   After SSA’s first year as an independent agency, we reported on its progress
                   in meeting current and future challenges.2 These challenges included
                   managing for results and accountability; funding future retirement
                   benefits; rethinking disability programs; combating SSI fraud, waste, and
                   abuse; handling increasing workloads with reduced resources; and
                   establishing effective leadership. This report updates and expands on the
                   challenges facing SSA’s new commissioner and the agency.3

                   To do our work, we drew from completed and ongoing GAO work on Social
                   Security issues and reviewed recent legislation affecting SSA. We also
                   reviewed SSA documents and spoke with SSA officials, selected officials of
                   the Advisory Council on Social Security and the Social Security Advisory
                   Board, and other experts to determine SSA’s progress in addressing its
                   challenges and what else is needed to make SSA a premier agency. We did
                   our work from October 1996 to February 1997 in accordance with
                   generally accepted government auditing standards.


                   SSAis ahead of many federal agencies in developing strategic plans;
Results in Brief   measuring its service to the public; and producing complete, accurate, and

                   1
                   Social Security Administration: Leadership Challenges Accompany Transition to an Independent
                   Agency (GAO/HEHS-95-59, Feb. 15, 1995).
                   2
                    Social Security Administration: Effective Leadership Needed to Meet Daunting Challenges
                   (GAO/T-OCG-96-7, July 25, 1996, and GAO/HEHS-96-196, Sept. 12, 1996).
                   3
                    The current commissioner is scheduled to leave office on Feb. 28, 1997.



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timely financial statements. This gives the agency a sound base from
which to manage significant current and future challenges. These
challenges include the aging of the baby boom generation, coupled with
increasing life expectancy and the declining ratio of contributing workers
to beneficiaries, which will place unprecedented strains on the Social
Security program in the next century. Unless the Congress acts, Social
Security funds will be inadequate to pay all benefits by 2029. SSA, however,
has not performed the research, analysis, and evaluation needed to inform
the public debate on the future financing of Social Security—the most
critical long-term issue facing the agency. SSA has recently taken initial
steps to more actively participate in the financing debate by reorganizing
and strengthening its research, policy analysis, and evaluation activities.

Also challenging SSA have been disability caseloads that have grown by
nearly 70 percent in the past decade. To its credit, SSA has undertaken an
important effort to fundamentally redesign its inefficient disability claims
process. However, while SSA has begun many of its planned initiatives,
none is far enough along for the agency to know whether specific
proposed process changes will achieve the desired results. Moreover, SSA
has not sufficiently promoted return-to-work efforts in the administration
and design of its disability programs. If even an additional 1 percent of the
6.6 million working-age people receiving disability benefits were to leave
SSA’s disability rolls by returning to work, lifetime cash benefits would be
reduced by an estimated $3 billion. In its SSI program, SSA has not done
enough to combat fraud and abuse and address program weaknesses.

SSA  faces increasing responsibilities in the future and must manage its
growing workloads with reduced resources. In early 1996, SSA estimated
that it would need about 76,000 work-years to handle its growing
workloads if it conducts business as usual. It expected to do this work
with fewer work-years than it has today. To successfully meet its workload
challenges, SSA knows that it must increasingly rely on technology and
build a workforce with the flexibility and skills to operate in a changing
environment. SSA faces significant challenges, however, in modernizing its
information systems—a complex, multiyear effort that could easily cost
billions of dollars. Compounding this challenge will be the possible loss of
many senior managers and executives—over the next 5 years, about half
of SSA’s senior executives will be eligible to retire. Moreover, SSA faces
difficult decisions on how best to deliver services in the future.

At this critical juncture, effective leadership is needed so the agency can
take the following actions to better ensure its success in the 21st century:



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             inform the national debate on Social Security financing issues; complete
             its redesign of the disability claims process and promote return to work in
             its disability programs; enhance efforts to ensure program integrity, while
             quickly and effectively implementing many reforms; and make the
             technology enhancements and workforce decisions needed to meet
             increasing workloads with fewer resources.


             The three major programs that SSA administers—OASI, DI, and SSI—provide
Background   cash income support to diverse populations. The Social Security Act
             established the OASI program to protect workers and their dependents and
             survivors from wages lost due to retirement. DI, enacted in 1956, provides
             monthly cash benefits to disabled workers and their families. The OASI and
             DI programs are funded through payroll taxes and are based on the
             contributions of individual workers and their employers. About 90 percent
             of all U.S. jobs are covered by these insurance programs. In 1995, the OASI
             and DI programs paid over $326 billion in benefits to more than 43 million
             eligible beneficiaries.

             SSI, enacted in 1972, provides cash assistance to aged, blind, or disabled
             individuals with limited income and assets. The federal SSI program
             replaced federal grants to state-administered programs, which varied
             substantially in benefit levels. The Congress intended SSI as a supplement
             to the OASI and DI programs for those with little or no Social Security
             coverage. Federal SSI benefits are funded by general revenues and based
             on financial need. In 1995, over 6 million recipients received about $25
             billion in federal benefits, including 2 million individuals aged 65 and over
             and almost 1 million children.

             To administer these three programs, SSA must perform the following
             essential tasks: issuing Social Security numbers to individuals; maintaining
             earnings records for workers by collecting wage reports from employers,
             which are used to determine the dollar amount of OASI and DI benefits; and
             processing benefit claims for all three programs. SSA must also determine
             which applicants for disability benefits under DI and SSI meet the federal
             definition of disability;4 for SSI, the agency must also determine applicants’
             levels of income and assets. In addition, SSA performs many actions to
             maintain accurate records for program recipients once they are enrolled.
             Moreover, SSA must periodically conduct reviews of the health status of
             disabled beneficiaries to ensure that those no longer eligible are removed

             4
              The Social Security Act generally defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful
             activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment expected to last for a
             continuous period of at least 12 months or result in death.



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                                           from the rolls. For SSI recipients, SSA must also review their financial
                                           status. Table 1 gives an overview of the three programs.


Table 1: Overview of SSA’s Programs
                                OASI                                   DI                                   SSI
Eligibility criteria            Age 62 or over with insured            Disabled persons with insured        Low-income aged, blind, or
                                statusa                                statusa                              disabled adults with limited
                                                                                                            work history; blind or disabled
                                                                                                            low-income children
Funding source                  Payroll taxes                          Payroll taxes                        General revenues
Average monthly benefit for     $688b                                  $703c                                $334d
December 1995
Recipients in December 1995     37.5                                   5.9                                  6.2
(in millions)
Total benefit outlays in 1995   $290,776                               $36,014                              $24,652d
(in millions)
                                           a
                                             Insured status is defined in quarters of coverage. An individual must earn 40 quarters of
                                           coverage to be insured by OASI and 20 quarters of coverage (within the last 40) to be insured by
                                           DI. In 1996, for example, 1 quarter of coverage was earned for each $640 of income; thus, 4
                                           quarters of coverage were earned if the worker’s total income was at least $2,560.
                                           b
                                               Number reflects retired workers only.
                                           c
                                               For disabled workers only.
                                           d
                                               Some states supplement SSI payments; this amount is the federal share only.




                                           At this time of heightened attention to the costs and effectiveness of all
SSA Steps Ahead With                       federal programs, the Congress and the administration have supported
Customer Service                           efforts to promote a more efficient federal government that is responsive
Focus and                                  and accountable to the public. This is especially critical at SSA because the
                                           agency deals with thousands of individuals daily and nearly 90 percent of
Results-Oriented                           its employees directly serve the public. SSA has surpassed many federal
Management                                 agencies in these efforts by assessing and improving its service to the
                                           public, gaining experience in managing for results, and emphasizing
                                           financial accountability.

                                           Two federal efforts, the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993
                                           (GPRA) and the National Performance Review (NPR), promote cost-effective
                                           service delivery governmentwide. To ensure that it is meeting the needs of
                                           the public and the requirements of GPRA and NPR, SSA regularly seeks
                                           customer feedback through mail and telephone surveys, comment cards in
                                           its field offices, focus groups, and special studies. It has also taken steps to



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use this information to improve its services. As demand for its 800-number
telephone service increased, for example, SSA found its service lacking.
Customer feedback indicated that this convenient telephone service was
important to the public, yet SSA’s performance data showed that in fiscal
year 1995, the “busy” rate for the 800 number was almost 49 percent; only
about 74 percent of callers were able to get through within 5 minutes of
their first try. SSA set a goal of answering 85 percent of its 800-number calls
within 5 minutes of a caller’s first try in fiscal year 1996 and made
operational changes to increase public access. As a result, the busy rate
decreased to 34 percent, and 83 percent of calls were answered within 5
minutes. For fiscal year 1997, SSA’s goal is to answer 95 percent of its
800-number calls within 5 minutes of a caller’s first try. We are currently
reviewing SSA’s efforts to improve this service.

SSA has also worked under GPRA to strengthen its strategic management
process and to identify and develop performance measures to help its
managers, the Congress, and the public assess how well it is
accomplishing its mission. During SSA’s recently completed participation
as a pilot agency under GPRA, SSA gained experience in developing specific
and quantifiable annual performance goals and measures.5 On the basis of
this experience, it expects to develop performance measures for fiscal
year 1998 that focus more on outcomes and results than in previous years.
For SSA’s fiscal year 1997 goals and performance measures, see appendix I.

In addition, SSA is a leader among federal agencies in producing complete,
accurate, and timely financial statements that promote accountability to
taxpayers.6 For fiscal years 1995 and 1996, SSA issued audited financial
statements 3 months before its legal mandate. Moreover, SSA was among
the first federal agencies to produce an accountability report, which is
designed to consolidate current reporting requirements under various laws
and provide a comprehensive picture of an agency’s program performance
and its financial condition. In addition, for fiscal year 1996, as a pilot
project, SSA and its Office of Inspector General collaborated to further
streamline financial reporting by including the Inspector General’s
Semiannual Report to Congress as part of the Accountability Report.


5
 As a pilot agency, SSA had to prepare GPRA performance plans for fiscal years 1994 to 1996. By the
end of fiscal year 1997, GPRA requires each federal agency to develop a strategic plan that covers at
least 5 years. GPRA also requires each agency to develop annual performance plans beginning with a
plan for fiscal year 1999. The first plan is due to the Office of Management and Budget in the fall of
1997.
6
This financial reporting is required under the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 and the Government
Management Reform Act of 1994.



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                        To be most effective, SSA’s ongoing efforts to cost effectively serve its
                        customers and be accountable to taxpayers will need to be well
                        coordinated and continually improved. The agency has taken steps to
                        better integrate its strategic planning, performance measurement, and
                        customer service efforts and to improve the ways that it collects and uses
                        customer feedback. SSA faces challenges, however, as do all federal
                        agencies, in integrating results-oriented management into its agency
                        culture and daily activities.7 Moreover, SSA must determine how to balance
                        its customers’ needs and expectations with those of taxpayers by
                        assessing the cost-effectiveness of its customer service improvements.


                        As the baby boom generation ages, growing numbers of people will
Long-Term Solvency      receive Social Security retirement and survivors benefits through OASI in
Is Threatened; SSA Is   the years to come, as shown in figure 1. By the year 2015—as baby
Not Yet Actively        boomers begin entering their mid-60s—the numbers of individuals
                        receiving benefits will reach an estimated 50.4 million: more than one-third
Participating in        greater than the 37.4 million people receiving Social Security retirement
Financing Debate        and survivors benefits in 1995. Once on the rolls, retirees can be expected
                        to receive benefits for longer time periods than past recipients. A 65-year-
                        old male who began receiving Social Security benefits in 1940—the first
                        year SSA began paying monthly benefits—was expected to live, on average,
                        about an additional 12 years. By 2015, a 65-year-old male will be expected
                        to live about an additional 16 years—a 33-percent increase. During that
                        same time period, the life expectancy for women aged 65 will increase by
                        almost 50 percent—from an average of over 13 years to an average of
                        nearly 20 years. Meanwhile, the ratio of contributing workers to
                        beneficiaries will decline. By 2015, an estimated 2.6 workers will be paying
                        taxes into the Social Security system per beneficiary; in 1950, 16.5 workers
                        were paying Social Security taxes per beneficiary.




                        7
                         For information on successful GPRA implementation practices, see Executive Guide: Effectively
                        Implementing the Government Performance and Results Act (GAO/GGD-96-118, June 1996).



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Figure 1: Growth in Social Security
Beneficiaries, 1950-2030              70      Millions of Beneficiaries


                                      60


                                      50


                                      40


                                      30


                                      20


                                      10


                                          0

                                          1950         1960         1970   1980        1990        2000        2010        2020        2030

                                          Calendar Years



                                      Note: Includes recipients of OASI only.

                                      Source: 1996 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors
                                      Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust Funds.




                                      This retirement explosion threatens the long-term solvency of the Social
                                      Security system. Beginning in 2012—15 years from now—program
                                      expenditures are projected to exceed tax income. By 2029, without
                                      corrective legislation, the trust funds are expected to be depleted, leaving
                                      insufficient funds to pay the expected level of OASI and DI benefits. (In an
                                      upcoming report, we will discuss in greater detail the issues affecting the
                                      major sources of retirement income—Social Security, private pensions,
                                      savings, and earnings.)

                                      Concerns about the long-term solvency of the Social Security system are
                                      fueling a public debate about the fundamental structure of this system.
                                      The Advisory Council on Social Security,8 for example, has put forth three
                                      different approaches to addressing the Social Security system’s long-term
                                      deficit. All three approaches call for some portion of Social Security

                                      8
                                       Before the independence legislation (P.L. 103-296), the Social Security Act provided for the
                                      appointment of a nonpartisan Advisory Council every 4 years to examine issues affecting the OASI, DI,
                                      and Medicare programs. P.L. 103-296 provided that this Council would be the last.



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                              payroll taxes to be invested in the stock market.9 Two of these approaches
                              call for allowing individuals to invest some portion of their payroll taxes in
                              individual retirement accounts. This would be a significant departure from
                              the current program design, in which benefits are based on past earnings
                              and trust fund moneys are invested and managed centrally. Given the
                              magnitude of the financial problems facing the Social Security system and
                              the nature of the proposals for changing the system, we can expect the
                              debate over the financing and structure of the Social Security system to
                              continue and intensify in the coming years.


SSA Is Taking Initial Steps   In our report on SSA’s transition to independence, we noted that the
to Be More Active             agency’s independence would heighten the need for it to work with the
                              Congress in developing options for ensuring that revenues are adequate to
                              make future Social Security benefit payments. SSA could, for example,
                              analyze options and assess their possible effects on individuals and on
                              SSA’s operations. Nearly 2 years after gaining independence, however, SSA
                              is not yet ready to fully support policymakers in the current public debate
                              on financing issues.

                              SSA has acknowledged that it has not undertaken the policy and research
                              activities it needs to examine critical issues affecting its programs,
                              including long-term financing, and to provide support to policymakers.
                              The agency recognizes the need to be more active in these areas and, in
                              May 1996, took steps to reorganize and strengthen its policy analysis,
                              research, and evaluation offices. It believes this reorganization will better
                              position it to take a leadership role in critical policy and research issues
                              related to its programs. By November 1996, SSA’s reorganized Office of
                              Research, Evaluation, and Statistics had formed new links with outside
                              experts to strengthen its research and evaluation capabilities. In addition,
                              it had created an office to coordinate all policy planning activities.
                              Although this is a positive first step, SSA officials also acknowledge that
                              they are just beginning to focus on Social Security’s long-term solvency.

                              SSA is in a unique position to inform policymakers and the public about the
                              nature of long-term financing issues. Focus groups conducted by SSA have
                              demonstrated that the public’s knowledge of Social Security programs is
                              generally low and the public’s confidence in the Social Security system is
                              undermined by its future financing problems. To address these issues, SSA
                              is conducting a public education campaign that discusses what the current


                              9
                               Social Security payroll taxes that accumulate in the trust fund reserves are currently invested in U.S.
                              Treasury bonds.



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                         system offers in disability, retirement, and survivors benefits. It also
                         emphasizes that the Social Security system can pay benefits for many
                         more years and that the Congress has time to act before the trust funds are
                         depleted. SSA, however, is not discussing options for maintaining or
                         changing the current system. Feedback SSA has received from its focus
                         groups indicates that addressing the public’s lack of knowledge without
                         also discussing possible options for ensuring the system’s future solvency
                         does not instill confidence and weakens the agency’s credibility with the
                         public.

                         We are concerned that SSA has not seized the opportunity as an
                         independent agency to speak out on the importance of addressing the
                         long-term financing issues sooner rather than later. As we have noted in
                         our previous work,10 the sooner action is taken to resolve the future
                         funding shortfall, the smaller the changes to the system need to be and the
                         more time individuals will have to adjust their financial and retirement
                         plans.


                         In recent years, disability caseloads have faced unprecedented growth. To
SSA Is Redesigning Its   manage this caseload growth and the resulting slow processing times, SSA
Disability Claims        plans to redesign and dramatically improve its disability claims process.
Process but Has          However, the scope and complexity of its many redesign initiatives risk
                         the likelihood that SSA will accomplish its redesign goals. Moreover, while
Placed Little Priority   SSA is taking steps to improve the process for moving eligible individuals
on Return-to-Work        onto the disability rolls more quickly, it has not sufficiently emphasized
                         helping beneficiaries return to work and leave the disability rolls.
Efforts
Disability Caseloads     During the past decade, SSA has faced significant increases in caseloads
Continue to Grow         and expenditures for its two disability programs—DI and SSI. DI and SSI
                         caseloads and expenditures increased dramatically between 1986 and
                         1995, and the pace of this growth accelerated in the early 1990s. In 1986,
                         4.4 million blind and disabled people under age 65 received DI or SSI
                         benefits; by 1995, this number had soared to 7.5 million—a 69-percent
                         increase.11 As the number of DI and SSI beneficiaries increased, so did the
                         amount paid in cash benefits. The combined DI and SSI cash benefits




                         10
                          Deficit Reduction: Opportunities to Address Long-Standing Government Performance Issues
                         (GAO/T-OCG-95-6, Sept. 13, 1995).
                         11
                           This number includes about 900,000 children receiving SSI disability benefits.



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                        increased from $25 billion to $57 billion in 10 years.12 Adjusted for
                        inflation, the increase in the value of these cash benefits was 66 percent.

                        As these programs have grown, the characteristics of new beneficiaries
                        have changed in ways that pose additional challenges for SSA. Beneficiaries
                        are, on average, younger and more likely to have longer lasting
                        impairments. Increases in beneficiaries with mental illness or mental
                        retardation, especially, have driven this trend. Between 1982 and 1992, for
                        example, mental impairment awards to younger workers increased by
                        about 500 percent. This growing proportion of younger beneficiaries with
                        longer lasting impairments means that the beneficiary population, on
                        average, is likely to spend more time on the disability rolls. In 1992, for
                        example, new DI awardees were, on average, 48 years old. Depending on
                        the type of impairment that qualified them for benefits, these beneficiaries
                        could spend nearly one-third of their adult lives on disability before
                        reaching age 65.


Success of Disability   As more and more people have filed for disability benefits, SSA has been
Redesign Is at Risk     slow to process initial claims, and appealed case backlogs have grown. To
                        manage the disability caseload growth, increase efficiency, and improve
                        service to its customers, SSA has started a major effort to change how
                        disability decisions are made. Making disability decisions is one of the
                        agency’s most demanding tasks; it accounted for more than half of SSA’s
                        total administrative budget—about $3 billion—in fiscal year 1995. Even so,
                        many claimants face long waits for disability decisions. As of June 1996,
                        the wait for initial decisions averaged 78 days for DI claims and 94 days for
                        SSI claims, with an additional 373-day wait for appealed decisions. Overall,
                        the current disability claims process is not meeting the needs of claimants,
                        the agency, or taxpayers.

                        To deal with these problems, in 1993 SSA formed a team to fundamentally
                        rethink and develop a proposal to redesign the disability claims process.
                        Efforts like SSA’s—business process reengineering—have been used
                        successfully by leading private-sector organizations to dramatically
                        improve their operations. In April 1994, we informed the Congress that the
                        agency’s redesign proposal was its first valid attempt to address the
                        fundamental changes needed to cope with disability workloads. At that
                        time, however, we also cautioned that many implementation challenges



                        12
                         This includes DI payments to disabled workers aged 18 to 64 and federal-only SSI payments to all SSI
                        blind and disabled beneficiaries regardless of age.



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would have to be addressed.13 These include new staffing and training
demands, developing and installing technology enhancements, and
confronting entrenched cultural barriers to change.

SSA’s redesign plan, released in late 1994, had an extensive scope and
complexity. It included 83 initiatives to be accomplished during a 6-year
period (fiscal years 1995 to 2000), with 38 of these to be completed or into
a research and development or testing phase by September 30, 1996. In a
recent report on the implementation challenges SSA faces as it redesigns its
disability claims process,14 we concluded that SSA’s disability redesign is
proving to be overly ambitious. Undertaking many initiatives at one time is
likely to limit the chances for success and has already led to
implementation delays. Although SSA has begun many of its planned
initiatives, none are complete and many are behind schedule.
Consequently, SSA has not progressed as intended in determining whether
specific initiatives will achieve their desired results. Without concrete and
measurable results, stakeholder support is hard to maintain.

SSAhas faced significant challenges in implementing some of the more
complex initiatives. For example, SSA considers technology vital to
redesign; it has, therefore, undertaken a technology initiative to more fully
automate the processing of disability claims. Completion of this initiative,
however, has been delayed by more than 2 years due to software
development problems and the need for additional testing to assess
redesign changes.

Another complex initiative involves consolidating two distinct jobs,
federal claims representative and state disability examiner, into a new
disability claim manager (DCM) position. SSA is considering the
establishment of about 11,000 DCM positions in more than 1,350 federal and
state locations, recruiting these DCMs from its current workforce. Before
fully implementing the DCM position, SSA must first provide several critical
support features, including technology enhancements and a simpler
method for making disability decisions, that SSA does not expect to be
available for several years. Moreover, SSA has struggled to resolve
stakeholder disagreements among representatives of federal and state
employees about this new position. SSA has determined that it will not



13
 Social Security Administration: Major Changes in SSA’s Business Processes Are Imperative
(GAO/T-AIMD-94-106, Apr. 14, 1994).
14
 SSA Disability Redesign: Focus Needed on Initiatives Most Crucial to Reducing Costs and Time
(GAO/HEHS-97-20, Dec. 20, 1996).



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                      decide to implement the DCM until valid and reliable testing demonstrates
                      that the position is viable.


Weak Return-to-Work   Although SSA has focused on improving its processes for moving eligible
Efforts               claimants onto the disability rolls, it has placed little priority on helping
                      them move off the rolls by obtaining employment. We have reported that
                      SSA’s disability programs are out of sync with societal attitudes, as
                      embodied in the Americans With Disabilities Act, that have shifted toward
                      goals of economic self-sufficiency and the right of people with disabilities
                      to fully participate in society.15

                      At one time, the common business practice was to encourage someone
                      with a disability to leave the workforce. Today, however, a growing
                      number of private companies have been focusing on enabling people with
                      disabilities to return to work. In contrast, SSA’s programs lack a focus on
                      providing the support and assistance that many people with disabilities
                      need to return to work. Eligibility requirements, for example, focus on
                      applicants’ inabilities, not their abilities; once on the rolls, beneficiaries
                      receive little encouragement to use rehabilitation services. A greater
                      emphasis on beneficiaries’ returning to work is needed to identify and
                      encourage the productive capacities of those who might benefit from
                      rehabilitation and employment assistance. Although the main reason for
                      emphasizing returning to work is so that people maximize their productive
                      potential, it is also true that an estimated $3 billion could be saved in
                      subsequent years if only an additional 1 percent of the 6.6 million
                      working-age people receiving disability benefits in 1995 were to leave the
                      rolls by returning to work.

                      SSA needs to develop a comprehensive return-to-work strategy that
                      includes providing return-to-work assistance to applicants and
                      beneficiaries and changing the structure of cash and medical benefits. As
                      part of an effort to place greater priority on beneficiaries’ returning to
                      work, we recommended that SSA identify legislative changes required to
                      implement such a strategy. Although evaluating any SSA response to our
                      recommendations would be premature, we will continue to assess SSA’s
                      efforts to help beneficiaries return to work.

                      SSAhas also missed opportunities to promote work among disabled
                      beneficiaries where it has the legislative authority to do so. In 1972, the

                      15
                       See SSA Disability: Program Redesign Necessary to Encourage Return to Work (GAO/HEHS-96-62,
                      Apr. 24, 1996) and Social Security: Disability Programs Lag in Promoting Return to Work
                      (GAO/T-HEHS-96-147, June 5, 1996).



                      Page 13                               GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
                   B-275889




                   Congress created the plan for achieving self-support (PASS) program as
                   part of SSI to help low-income individuals with disabilities return to work.16
                   However, SSA has not translated the Congress’ broad goals for the PASS
                   work incentive into a coherent program design. We recently reported that
                   SSA needs to improve PASS program management, and the agency has taken
                   steps to better manage the program in accordance with our
                   recommendations.


                   Limiting opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse in government
Inadequate         programs is essential to promoting public confidence in the government’s
Management and     ability to wisely use taxpayers’ dollars. Moreover, problems in any one of
Oversight of SSI   the programs that SSA administers can undermine confidence in all of its
                   programs. Recent media reports on SSI fraud and abuse have focused
Program            attention on SSA’s management of this program. Several of our recent
                   reviews of the SSI program have shown that SSA’s oversight and
                   management of SSI have been inadequate and that the agency is not
                   aggressively pursuing opportunities to increase program efficiencies.
                   Although quantifying the extent of fraud, waste, and abuse is difficult, we
                   have repeatedly identified program weaknesses that SSA needs to address.
                   This suggests more pervasive problems with SSA’s overall management of,
                   and attention to, the SSI program.

                   SSAhas awarded SSI benefits, for example, to unknown numbers of
                   non-English-speaking immigrants who are actually ineligible for SSI
                   benefits.17 These awards are very costly to the government, accounting in
                   each case for thousands of dollars in improper payments over the years.
                   And even though individual SSA field offices have developed their own
                   creative approaches to this problem, SSA’s programwide efforts for
                   ensuring that only people who are eligible for SSI benefits receive them
                   have been limited.

                   SSA  has also lacked an effective program to prevent erroneous payments to
                   prisoners. Even though prisoners are ineligible for SSI if they have been in
                   jail for 1 calendar month or longer, prisoners in many large county and



                   16
                    The PASS program provides for work-related expenses, such as training or transportation, to be
                   excluded when an individual’s eligibility or benefit amount is determined. In some cases, this allows DI
                   beneficiaries who would not otherwise be eligible for SSI to receive SSI benefits in addition to their DI
                   benefits. See PASS Program: SSA Work Incentive for Disabled Beneficiaries Poorly Managed
                   (GAO/HEHS-96-51, Feb. 28, 1996).
                   17
                    Supplemental Security Income: Disability Program Vulnerable to Applicant Fraud When Middlemen
                   Are Used (GAO/HEHS-95-116, Aug. 31, 1995).



                   Page 14                                    GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
B-275889




local jail systems have received millions of dollars in cash benefits.18 This
means that taxpayers have been paying twice to support these
individuals—both for SSI benefits and the cost of imprisonment. SSA has
begun to obtain information on current prisoners; however, it has not tried
to develop information that would allow it to recover benefits paid to
incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals who may have received
benefits in prior years, although this information is available.

In addition, SSA’s PASS program internal controls have been inadequate,
compromising the program’s integrity. SSA’s internal program controls
provide only limited guarantees that program moneys are being used
appropriately and taxpayer dollars spent judiciously. For example, the
lack of adequate guidance on acceptable PASS expenditures has resulted in
inconsistent decisions on purchases. In one instance the proposed
purchase of a $13,000 automobile was denied because the applicant did
not provide sufficient evidence to justify the car’s cost; in other instances,
however, purchases of similarly expensive vehicles were approved or less
justification was provided for purchases.

SSA  is also missing opportunities to more efficiently administer the SSI
program and to prevent or more quickly detect overpayments to
recipients.19 Millions of dollars could be saved, according to our estimates,
if SSA field offices had and used direct online access to computerized state
income information during initial and subsequent assessments of
eligibility. Although SSA has begun to develop and expand online access in
several field offices, it has not aggressively sought to use this technology
to reduce benefit overpayments.

SSA acknowledges that it needs to do more to prevent and detect fraud,
waste, and abuse. It has several initiatives under way to accomplish this,
and we will be monitoring these efforts. In addition, the new SSA Inspector
General’s Office, created when SSA gained independence from HHS, is
increasing its emphasis on fraud and abuse.




18
 Supplemental Security Income: SSA Efforts Fall Short in Correcting Erroneous Payments to
Prisoners (GAO/HEHS-96-152, Aug. 30, 1996).
19
 Supplemental Security Income: Administrative and Program Savings Possible by Directly Accessing
State Data (GAO/HEHS-96-163, Aug. 29, 1996).



Page 15                                 GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
                              B-275889




                              While SSA is grappling with policy and program challenges, it will also need
SSA Faces Difficult           to meet customer expectations in the face of growing workloads and
Challenges in                 reduced resources. SSA expects to redesign inefficient work processes and
Preparing for Future          modernize its information systems to increase productivity, knowing that
                              its customer service will deteriorate to unacceptable levels if it continues
Workloads                     to conduct business as in the past. In addition, it faces the urgent need to
                              complete year 2000 software conversion to avoid major service disruption
                              at the turn of the century. SSA will also need to effectively manage its
                              workforce and consider what service delivery structure will work best in
                              the future.


SSA Must Manage Growing       The need to effectively balance public service needs with costs will
Workloads With Reduced        become even more important in the future. As the baby boom generation
Resources                     ages, more and more people will be applying for and receiving SSA program
                              benefits. In addition to increasing retirement and disability caseloads, SSA’s
                              other workloads will grow because of the following increasing
                              responsibilities:

                          •   SSA’s workloads over the next few years will increase substantially as a
                              result of recent congressional efforts to overhaul the nation’s welfare
                              system. The Congress has made changes that eliminate disability benefits
                              for drug addicts and alcoholics, restrict noncitizens’ SSI benefit eligibility,
                              and tighten the SSI eligibility criteria for disabled children. SSA will have to
                              manage the large influx of appeals and reapplications that is expected
                              following the changes in benefit eligibility. SSA has already received
                              appeals for more than half of the over 200,000 drug addicts and alcoholics
                              who were notified in June 1996 that their benefits would be terminated,
                              according to SSA officials.20 These workloads will also have an impact on
                              SSA’s capacity to meet other workload challenges.
                          •   SSA must meet a legislative requirement that most workers be mailed
                              annual statements of their earnings and estimated retirement benefits,21
                              called Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statements. The creation
                              and mailing of these annual statements to all workers aged 60 and older,
                              begun in 1995, must be expanded to those aged 25 and older—about
                              123 million individuals—by the year 2000. We recently recommended that
                              these statements be improved to more effectively communicate important

                              20
                                Legislation was enacted in March 1996 that eliminated drug and alcohol abuse as a basis, or a
                              material contributing factor, for receiving disability benefits. Individuals who received benefit
                              termination notices were given the option to reapply but could remain eligible for SSI or DI on the
                              basis of another disabling condition.
                              21
                               Under the legislation, SSA must provide individuals aged 50 and over estimates of their potential
                              monthly retirement benefits, beginning no later than Oct. 1, 1999.



                              Page 16                                   GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
                             B-275889




                             information to the public; improving these statements could result in
                             fewer inquiries about them, reducing the impact on SSA workloads.22
                         •   SSA has not fully met legislative requirements to periodically review the
                             status of disabled beneficiaries to ensure that those who are no longer
                             disabled are removed from the rolls. About 4.3 million DI and SSI
                             beneficiaries were due or overdue for continuing disability reviews in
                             fiscal year 1996.23 SSA now has plans to review the status of more than
                             8 million beneficiaries in the next 7 years. To accomplish this, SSA would
                             have to conduct about twice as many reviews as it has conducted over the
                             past 20 years combined.

                             SSA  knows that it must meet these increasing demands in an era of federal
                             downsizing and spending reductions. In early 1996, SSA estimated that it
                             would need the equivalent of about 76,000 work-years to handle its
                             workloads by the end of the century if it conducted business as usual. It
                             expected to handle this work with fewer work-years than it has today. SSA
                             is in the process of revising these estimates.


Technology Critical to       To handle increasing workloads and improve public service, SSA has begun
SSA’s Future Success         to redesign inefficient work processes and develop supporting modernized
                             information systems. SSA is in the process of a multiyear, multibillion
                             dollar systems modernization effort expected to support new ways of
                             doing business and improve productivity. SSA’s Automation Investment
                             Fund of $1.1 billion supports its 5-year plan, from fiscal years 1994 to 1998,
                             of moving from reliance on computer terminals linked to mainframe
                             computers in its Baltimore headquarters to a nationwide network of
                             personal computers. The new network is expected to improve productivity
                             and customer service in field offices and teleservice centers and allow for
                             further technology enhancements.

                             Although this new computer network environment may yield productivity
                             improvements, it poses significant challenges for SSA. The usefulness of
                             new computer systems will depend on the software developed for them.
                             Software development has been identified by many experts as one of the
                             most risky and costly aspects of systems development. To mitigate the risk
                             of failing to deliver high-quality software on time and within budget, SSA
                             must have a disciplined and consistent process for developing software.


                             22
                              SSA Benefit Statements: Well Received by the Public but Difficult to Comprehend (GAO/HEHS-97-19,
                             Dec. 5, 1996).
                             23
                              Social Security Disability: Alternatives Would Boost Cost-Effectiveness of Continuing Disability
                             Reviews (GAO/HEHS-97-2, Oct. 16, 1996).



                             Page 17                                   GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
                            B-275889




                            SSA  has already experienced problems, however, in developing its first
                            major software application for use in its new network. These problems
                            include (1) using programmers with insufficient experience, (2) using
                            software development tools that have not performed effectively, and
                            (3) developing initial schedules that were too optimistic. We have reported
                            that these problems have collectively contributed to a delay of over 2 years
                            in implementing this new software. Although SSA has begun to take steps
                            to better position itself to successfully develop and maintain its software,
                            it faces many challenges as it works to develop software in its new
                            computer network environment.


Year 2000: Converting       SSA faces another systems challenge—one of the highest priority—that
Software Top Priority to    affects not only its new network but computer programs that exist for
Avoid Benefits Disruption   both its mainframe and personal computers. Most computer software in
                            use today is limited to two-digit date fields, such as “97” for 1997.
                            Consequently, at the turn of the century, computer software will be unable
                            to distinguish between 1900 and 2000 because both would be designated
                            “00.” By the end of this century, SSA must review all of its computer
                            software—about 30 million lines of computer code—and make the
                            changes needed to ensure that its systems can handle the first change to a
                            new century since the computer age began.

                            This year 2000 software conversion must be completed to avoid major
                            service disruption, such as erroneous payments or failure to process
                            benefits, at the turn of the century. Errors in SSA programs could also
                            cause difficulties in determining who is eligible for retirement benefits.
                            For example, an individual born in 1920 could be seen as being 20 years
                            old—not 80—and therefore ineligible for benefits. Similarly, someone born
                            in 1980 could be seen as 80 years old—not 20—and therefore entitled to
                            receive Social Security benefits.

                            Beginning work on this problem in 1989, SSA has reviewed and corrected
                            about 50 percent of the computer code that must be checked, according to
                            its Deputy Commissioner for Systems. To complete the job, SSA estimates
                            that it will take about 350 work-years. Agency officials reported that the
                            amount of resources dedicated to the year 2000 effort could impact staff
                            availability for lower priority projects and SSA’s ability to tackle new
                            systems development work.




                            Page 18                        GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
                           B-275889




Developing a Trained and   SSA recognizes that to maximize the effectiveness of its reengineered work
Flexible Workforce Is      processes and investments in technology, it must invest in ongoing
Essential                  employee training and career development. Ultimately, SSA envisions a less
                           specialized workforce with a broader range of technical skills that can be
                           flexibly used in areas of greatest need. In addition, SSA has taken steps to
                           reduce its number of supervisors, as part of the administration’s efforts to
                           eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy by working with fewer supervisory
                           layers. To manage these changes, SSA is training some of its headquarters
                           employees in the concepts and techniques of teamwork. To manage with
                           fewer supervisors in its field operations, SSA also plans to work with its
                           unions to test a number of team concepts.

                           Complicating SSA’s efforts is its aging workforce: 51 percent of SSA’s senior
                           executives and 35 percent of its mid-level managers are eligible to retire
                           over the next 5 years. In the last 2 fiscal years, SSA has lost two of its seven
                           Deputy Commissioners to retirement.24 SSA has acknowledged the
                           importance of having skilled managers to prepare for the demands of
                           heavier workloads, new technology, and expected changes in its employee
                           and client base. However, it has been nearly 5 years since SSA has
                           conducted an executive-level management development program. SSA also
                           has not selected candidates for its mid-level management development
                           program since 1993. The agency recognizes the need for management
                           development programs but has not yet scheduled future programs.


Difficult Restructuring    Although SSA has begun to discuss its use of improved technology and a
Decisions Lie Ahead        more flexible workforce to conduct its business in new ways in the future,
                           it has maintained its traditional service delivery structure, including 1,300
                           field offices. Given the significant changes facing SSA, it has not adequately
                           considered whether its current service delivery structure is really what is
                           needed for the future.

                           According to SSA officials, the agency has not developed specific plans for
                           restructuring its organization and redeploying staff in response to
                           demographic and workforce changes and shifting customer expectations.
                           As noted earlier, the demand for SSA’s 800-number telephone service
                           continues to grow, and SSA’s surveys show that callers prefer to use the
                           telephone for more and more of their business. Customer feedback also
                           indicates that customers would like to complete their business in a single
                           contact. Over time, SSA will likely need to restructure how it does business

                           24
                             SSA currently has seven Deputy Commissioners who oversee the following functions: operations;
                           systems; finance, assessment, and management; programs and policy; communications; human
                           resources; and legislation and congressional affairs.



                           Page 19                                 GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
                       B-275889




                       to cost-effectively meet changing customer preferences; this may
                       ultimately involve office closures. Issues of where, how, and by whom
                       work will be done entail sensitive human resources issues and may have
                       negative impacts on local communities; to resolve these, SSA will need to
                       work closely with its unions, employee groups, and the Congress.

                       To improve its 800-number service, for example, SSA has many initiatives
                       under way, which we are reviewing. SSA currently has 37 teleservice
                       centers. Studies indicate that this is far too many teleservice centers to
                       operate SSA’s 800-number system in the most cost-effective way. A 1990
                       report from HHS’ Inspector General, for example, indicates that SSA could
                       operate more efficiently and cost-effectively with one-third the number of
                       centers it currently has. SSA has studied this issue but has not developed
                       specific plans for reducing the number of teleservice centers.


                       As the 21st century approaches, SSA faces dramatic challenges: funding
Observations on        future retirement benefits, rethinking disability processes and programs,
Leadership Needed to   combating fraud and abuse, and restructuring how work is performed and
Manage Challenges      services are delivered. How SSA performs in these areas can have a
                       powerful effect on its success in fulfilling its mission and on the public’s
                       confidence in this agency and the federal government.

                       To help SSA meet these challenges, the Congress took steps through the
                       independence legislation to build public confidence in and strengthen the
                       agency. The independence legislation provides that SSA’s Commissioner be
                       appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate for a
                       fixed 6-year term, with removal from office by the President only for a
                       finding of neglect of duty or malfeasance in office. As the Congress was
                       considering the legislation, we testified that a fixed term of several years
                       for the Commissioner would help stabilize and strengthen SSA’s leadership.
                       We continue to support the need for a fixed term. The legislation also calls
                       for a fixed 6-year term for a Deputy Commissioner, also to be appointed by
                       the President with the Senate’s advice and consent.

                       The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner head the leadership team
                       needed to address the agency’s existing problems and manage its future
                       challenges. SSA’s efforts to maintain an effective cadre of leaders are
                       complicated by the impending retirement of many of its executives and
                       managers and by the absence of a Commissioner and Deputy
                       Commissioner with the stability of fixed terms. This leadership must be in
                       place for SSA to progress on the four fronts we have highlighted.



                       Page 20                        GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
                  B-275889




                  First, SSA must step up to its role as the nation’s expert on Social Security
                  issues; it is uniquely positioned to inform the public policy debate on the
                  future financing and structure of Social Security.

                  Second, SSA must redesign the disability claims process and place greater
                  emphasis on return to work in its disability programs. To increase the
                  redesign project’s likelihood of success, SSA needs to focus on those
                  initiatives most crucial to producing significant measurable reductions in
                  claims-processing time and administrative cost. SSA also needs to place
                  greater emphasis on return to work by changing both the design and
                  administration of the disability programs.

                  Third, SSA must better protect taxpayer dollars. As the administrator of the
                  nation’s largest cash welfare program, SSA must ensure program integrity
                  in SSI. Reports of fraud and abuse trigger public perceptions that SSA is not
                  making cost-effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

                  Finally, SSA must manage technology investments and its workforce and
                  make difficult decisions about handling increasing workloads with
                  reduced resources. It must also continue to focus on and closely manage
                  its year 2000 conversion to help ensure that SSA will move into the 21st
                  century with systems that function correctly. Moreover, as SSA prepares to
                  meet greater demands and changes in its employee and client base, it may
                  have to make difficult workforce decisions to better respond to customer
                  needs. For example, SSA may need to close offices and move its workers to
                  different locations to better meet growing demand. In an environment of
                  shrinking budgets and increased expectations for government agency
                  performance, ensuring that agency decisions are based on comprehensive
                  planning and sound analyses will be even more essential.

                  SSA’s success in meeting these challenges is critical. The agency is all
                  important, touching the lives of almost all Americans. How it meets its
                  challenges as it moves into the next century can make a significant
                  difference in the well-being of America’s vulnerable populations—the
                  aged, disabled, and poor—and in how the public feels about its
                  government.


                  In commenting on a draft of this report, SSA discussed the
Agency Comments   accomplishments of Commissioner Chater during her tenure and stated
                  that many challenges remain. The agency also made technical comments




                  Page 21                         GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
B-275889




on our report, which we incorporated where appropriate. See appendix II
for a copy of the agency’s comment letter.


We are sending copies of this report to the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration and other interested parties. Copies also will be
available to others on request. If you or your staff have any questions
concerning this report, please call me on (202) 512-7215 or Cynthia M.
Fagnoni, Assistant Director, at (202) 512-7202. Other major contributors to
this report include Gale C. Harris and Valerie A. Rogers.




Jane L. Ross
Director, Income Security Issues




Page 22                       GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Page 23   GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Contents



Letter                                                                                              1


Appendix I                                                                                         26

SSA’s Goals and
Performance
Measures, Fiscal Year
1997
Appendix II                                                                                        28

Comments From the
Social Security
Administration
Appendix III                                                                                       32

Related GAO Products
Table                   Table 1: Overview of SSA’s Programs                                         5


Figure                  Figure 1: Growth in Social Security Beneficiaries, 1950-2030                8




                        Abbreviations

                        CDR        continuing disability review
                        DCM        disability claim manager
                        DI         Disability Insurance
                        GPRA       Government Performance and Results Act of 1993
                        HHS        Department of Health and Human Services
                        NPR        National Performance Review
                        OASI       Old Age and Survivors Insurance
                        PASS       Plan for Achieving Self-Support
                        SSA        Social Security Administration
                        SSI        Supplemental Security Income


                        Page 24                       GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Page 25   GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Appendix I

SSA’s Goals and Performance Measures,
Fiscal Year 1997


                                                                                                              Fiscal year 1997
Goal                          Performance measure                                                             target
Rebuild public confidence
                              Percent of public “very well informed” or “fairly well informed” about Social   62 percent
                              Security

                              Number of personal earnings and benefit estimate statements issued upon         14,000,000
                              request and automatically
Provide world-class service
  Overall                     Percent of people who rate SSA service as “courteous” or “very courteous”       90 percent

                              Percent of people who rate SSA service as “good” or “very good”                 82 percent
  Enumeration                 Percent of Social Security numbers issued within 5 calendar days after          97 percent
                              receipt of needed information
  Earnings                    Percent of earnings items posted correctly                                      98.8 percent
  OASI/SSI aged claims        Percent of OASI claims paid when due or within 15 days from effective filing    83 percent
                              date

                              An OASI initial payment accuracy rate                                           95.2 percent

                              An SSI initial payment accuracy rate                                            94 percent
  OASI/SSI/DI claims          Percent of DI claims decided within 6 months after onset or within 60 days      55 percent
                              after the effective filing date, whichever is later

                              Percent of SSI disability claims decided within 60 days of filing               30 percent

                              Number of DI and SSI initial disability claims processed                        2,415,000

                              Percent of Disability Determination Service decisional accuracy                 97 percent

                              Percent of hearings decisions made and notices sent within 120 days of filing 15 percent

                              Number of hearings processed                                                    650,000
  Postentitlement             Percent of budgeted continuing disability reviews (CDR) processed to            100 percent
                              completion

                              Number of CDRs processed                                                        864,000
  Face-to-face service        Percent of people with an appointment who have waiting times of 10 minutes      84 percent
                              or less in a field office

                              Percent of people without an appointment who have waiting times of 30           72.7 percent
                              minutes or less in a field office
  800-number telephone        Percent of callers who reach 800 number within 5 minutes                        95 percent
  service
                              Percent of calls handled accurately                                             97.2 percent
                                                                                                                     (continued)




                                       Page 26                               GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
                                        Appendix I
                                        SSA’s Goals and Performance Measures,
                                        Fiscal Year 1997




                                                                                                                     Fiscal year 1997
Goal                            Performance measure                                                                  target
  Mail                          Percent of people who find SSA mail “easy” or “very easy” to understand              75 percent
Provide supportive environment for employees
                                Percent of direct service employees with intelligent workstations connected          Yet to be
                                to a local area network                                                              determined

                                Number of underrepresented equal opportunity groups that came closer to              Six of six
                                parity with civilian labor force

                                        Source: Social Security Administration Business Plan: Fiscal Years 1997-2001, SSA, Pub. No.
                                        01-008 (Apr. 1996).




                                        Page 27                                 GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Appendix II

Comments From the Social Security
Administration




              Page 28    GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Appendix II
Comments From the Social Security
Administration




Page 29                             GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Appendix II
Comments From the Social Security
Administration




Page 30                             GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Appendix II
Comments From the Social Security
Administration




Page 31                             GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
Appendix III

Related GAO Products


               SSADisability Redesign: Focus Needed on Initiatives Most Crucial to
               Reducing Costs and Time (GAO/HEHS-97-20, Dec. 20, 1996).

                 Benefit Statements: Well Received by the Public but Difficult to
               SSA
               Comprehend (GAO/HEHS-97-19, Dec. 5, 1996).

               Social Security Disability: Alternatives Would Boost Cost-Effectiveness of
               Continuing Disability Reviews (GAO/HEHS-97-2, Oct. 16, 1996).

               Supplemental Security Income: SSA Efforts Fall Short in Correcting
               Erroneous Payments to Prisoners (GAO/HEHS-96-152, Aug. 30, 1996).

               Supplemental Security Income: Administrative and Program Savings
               Possible by Directly Accessing State Data (GAO/HEHS-96-163, Aug. 29, 1996).

               Social Security Administration: Effective Leadership Needed to Meet
               Daunting Challenges (GAO/T-OCG-96-7, July 25, 1996 and GAO/HEHS-96-196, Sept.
               12, 1996).

               SSADisability: Program Redesign Necessary to Encourage Return to Work
               (GAO/HEHS-96-62, Apr. 24, 1996).

                  Program: SSA Work Incentive for Disabled Beneficiaries Poorly
               PASS
               Managed (GAO/HEHS-96-51, Feb. 28, 1996).

               Deficit Reduction: Opportunities to Address Long-Standing Government
               Performance Issues (GAO/T-OCG-95-6, Sept. 13, 1995).

               Supplemental Security Income: Disability Program Vulnerable to Applicant
               Fraud When Middlemen Are Used (GAO/HEHS-95-116, Aug. 31, 1995).

               Social Security Administration: Leadership Challenges Accompany
               Transition to an Independent Agency (GAO/HEHS-95-59, Feb. 15, 1995).

               Social Security Administration: Major Changes in SSA’s Business Processes
               Are Imperative (GAO/T-AIMD-94-106, Apr. 14, 1994).




(105938)       Page 32                         GAO/HEHS-97-53 Challenges Await New Commissioner
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Address Correction Requested