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Testimony: 

Before the Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT:
Thursday, April 15, 2010: 

Social Security Administration: 

Better Planning Needed to Improve Service Delivery: 

Statement of Barbara D. Bovbjerg, Managing Director: 
Education, Workforce, and Income Security: 

GAO-10-586T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-10-586T, a report to Committee on Ways and Means 
Subcommittee on Social Security. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

Millions of people rely on the services of Social Security 
Administration (SSA) field offices. In fiscal year 2009, SSA’s 
approximately 1,300 field offices provided service to a record 45.1 
million customers. People visit field offices to apply for Social 
Security cards, apply for retirement and disability benefits, request 
replacement benefit checks, and a host of other services. Over the 
last several years, growing workloads have challenged field offices’ 
ability to manage work while continuing to deliver quality customer 
service. 

The Subcommittee asked GAO to discuss our January 2009 report on SSA 
field office service delivery challenges. Specifically, this testimony 
will discuss (1) the state of SSA field office operations, and (2) the 
status of SSA’s efforts to develop a plan to address future service 
delivery challenges. 

To respond to the request, GAO relied primarily on the January 2009 
report titled Social Security Administration: Service Delivery Plan 
Needed to Address Baby Boom Retirement Challenges (GAO-09-24, Jan. 
2009), and updated it with additional information provided by SSA. In 
that report, GAO recommended that SSA develop a service delivery plan 
that explains how it will deliver quality service while managing 
growing work demands. SSA agreed to develop a document that describes 
service delivery and staffing plans. No new recommendations are being 
made in this testimony. 

What GAO Found: 

Since we last examined service at SSA field offices, SSA has expanded 
the level of staffing, and encouraged greater use of automated 
services. However, rapidly rising workloads have adversely affected 
customer service and the quality of some work, despite SSA’s efforts. 
Recent hiring by SSA nearly restored field offices to their fiscal 
year 2005 level, but field offices have experienced rapid growth in 
their retirement and disability claims workloads. SSA used various 
strategies to manage the growing workload, including deferring some 
reviews of beneficiaries’ continuing eligibility. However, deferring 
these reviews means that beneficiaries who no longer qualify for 
benefits may still receive payments erroneously. Key customer service 
indicators were also affected. In fiscal year 2009, more than 3 
million customers waited over 1 hour to be served. Further, SSA’s 
Field Office Caller Survey found that 58 percent of customers calling 
selected field offices had at least one earlier call that had gone 
unanswered, but for methodological reasons, the unanswered call rate 
was likely even higher. 

Table: End of Fiscal Year Field Office Staffing and Work Completed, 
Fiscal Years 2005-2009: 

Fiscal year: 2005; 
Total number of SSA employees: 65,122; 
Number of field office employees: 28,790; 
Field office work (in work units): 37.1; 
Work units per employee: 1,289. 

Fiscal year: 2006; 
Total number of SSA employees: 63,054; 
Number of field office employees: 27,383; 
Field office work (in work units): 37.0; 
Work units per employee: 1,350. 

Fiscal year: 2007; 
Total number of SSA employees: 61,594; 
Number of field office employees: 26,743; 
Field office work (in work units): 36.2; 
Work units per employee: 1,352. 

Fiscal year: 2008; 
Total number of SSA employees: 63,202; 
Number of field office employees: 27,534; 
Field office work (in work units): 36.5; 
Work units per employee: 1,327. 

Fiscal year: 2009; 
Total number of SSA employees: 66,459; 
Number of field office employees: 28,656; 
Field office work (in work units): 37.9; 
Work units per employee: 1,322. 

Percent change, 2005-2009: 
Total number of SSA employees: 2.1%; 
Number of field office employees: -0.5%; 
Field office work (in work units): 2.1%; 
Work units per employee: 2.6%. 

[End of table] 

SSA has not yet offered a plan to detail how it will address future 
service delivery challenges as GAO recommended in January 2009. With 
projected increases to SSA’s workload from retirement and disability 
filings from the nation’s baby boom generation, and a continued wave 
of retirements of experienced staff, the need for such a plan is 
greater than ever. SSA estimates about a 14 percent rise in Old-Age 
and Survivors Insurance, Disability Insurance (Disability), and 
Supplemental Security Income claims over the next 10 years, rising 
from a combined total of 9.4 million, in fiscal year 2008 to 10.7 
million in fiscal year 2017. In addition, based on SSA’s projections, 
41 percent of the current workforce will retire by fiscal year 2018. 
With such challenges, it is critical for SSA to develop a plan to 
discuss how it will address future challenges. SSA officials did not 
provide GAO with an update on where the agency stood in developing 
such a plan. 

View [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-586T] or key 
components. For more information, contact Barbara D. Bovbjerg @ (202) 
512-7215 or bovbjergb@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the state of Social Security 
Administration (SSA) field office services. SSA's approximately 1,300 
field offices serve a vital role as SSA's primary contact with the 
public. In 2009, a record 45.1 million people visited field offices to 
apply for Social Security cards and benefits, and to request 
replacement benefit checks and a host of other services. In January 
2009, we issued a report that discussed field office service 
challenges.[Footnote 1] In the time since our report, field office 
staffing has increased slightly, nearly restoring staffing levels to 
their fiscal year 2005 level. With the recent economic downturn, field 
offices are facing more pressure than ever to meet service delivery 
needs, and soon baby boomer retirements will stretch SSA field office 
staff even further. 

Today I will discuss (1) the current state of SSA field office 
operations, and (2) the status of SSA's efforts to develop a plan to 
address future service delivery challenges. This testimony is based on 
our January 2009 report and updated with additional information 
provided by SSA. In developing that report, we obtained various 
automated data on field office staffing, productivity, and customer 
wait times. We also interviewed SSA headquarters officials responsible 
for overseeing field office operations, as well as managers and staff 
in 21 field offices, two Social Security Card Centers, two regional 
offices, and three area offices. To update this information, we 
obtained data from SSA, including data on staffing and productivity, 
and interviewed SSA officials. 

We conducted the work for our January 2009 report between July 2007 
and January 2009 in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards and updated this information in April 2010. Those 
standards require that we plan and perform the audits to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe 
that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

Background: 

SSA offers a range of services, which includes providing financial 
assistance to eligible individuals through the following three major 
benefit programs: 

* Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI)--provides benefits to older 
workers and their families and to survivors of deceased workers. 

* Disability Insurance (Disability)--provides benefits to eligible 
workers who have qualifying disabilities, and their eligible family 
members. 

* Supplemental Security Income (SSI)--provides income for aged, blind, 
or disabled individuals with limited income and resources. 

In fiscal year 2009, these three benefit programs provided a combined 
total of approximately $704 billion in benefit payments to nearly 59 
million beneficiaries. SSA projects that the benefit payments and 
number of beneficiaries for the three programs will increase in fiscal 
year 2010. 

Besides paying benefits through these three programs, SSA issues 
Social Security cards, maintains earnings records, and performs 
various other functions through a network of field office and 
headquarters operations using an administrative budget of over $10 
billion. SSA's field operations consist of: 

* field offices, which serve as the agency's primary points for face- 
to-face contact; 

* Social Security Card Centers, which issue original Social Security 
numbers, and replacement Social Security cards; 

* Teleservice Centers, which offer national, toll-free telephone 
service; and: 

* Program Service Centers, which make entitlement decisions for 
benefits, as well as assist in answering 800-number calls. 

Field offices are located in communities across the United States, the 
Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam, delivering services through 
face-to-face contact, over the phone, and through the mail. Field 
offices range in size from large urban offices with 50 or more 
employees to very small offices in remote areas called resident 
stations. SSA currently has 1,259 field offices, 8 Social Security 
Card Centers, and 29 resident stations. Resident stations have more 
limited services, and are staffed by one or two individuals. Field 
offices also offer services to the public through 571 contact 
stations. These stations provide very limited functions and are 
staffed with one SSA field office employee who travels once a month to 
certain locations, such as a hospital, to provide service to customers 
who lack transportation or telephone access. Additionally, SSA has 
begun using video conferencing to take claims and provide other 
services to customers in remote locations. Forty-one field offices are 
currently using video conferencing to provide service to customers and 
SSA is preparing to roll-out video conferencing to 80 additional 
offices. SSA also has a separate video service project in the Denver 
region to help service geographically diverse areas and provide tribal 
outreach. 

In addition to field offices, SSA offers customers a variety of other 
options for conducting their business. Individuals may call SSA's toll-
free helpline to file for benefits or to obtain general information. 
They also may use the Internet to file for benefits, or visit a Social 
Security Card Center to request a Social Security card. 

While SSA field offices take applications and determine if claimants 
meet basic, nonmedical eligibility requirements for benefits, state 
Disability Determination Services (DDS) that are under contract with 
SSA make medical eligibility determinations for Disability and SSI 
claims. SSA's Hearing Offices and Appeals Council make decisions on 
appeals of these determinations. DDSs also conduct continuing 
disability reviews for Disability and SSI beneficiaries to ensure that 
individuals are still medically eligible for payments. For 
beneficiaries found eligible for disability benefits, SSA periodically 
conducts disability reviews (CDR) of beneficiaries' earnings and work 
activity to determine if they are still financially eligible to 
receive Disability benefits. SSA refers to these reviews as "work 
CDRs."[Footnote 2] SSA also conducts periodic reviews to determine if 
SSI beneficiaries are still eligible to receive SSI payments based on 
the beneficiary's income, living arrangement, and other non-medical 
factors related to SSI--these reviews are referred to as SSI 
redeterminations. One type of redetermination is a limited issue 
review, which does not require a full review of eligibility. 

Recent Hiring Has Helped Field Offices Manage Growing Claims 
Workloads, but Work Quality and Customer Service Have Declined: 

Since we last examined service at SSA field offices, SSA has expanded 
the level of staffing, and encouraged greater use of automated 
services. However, rapidly rising workloads have adversely affected 
customer service and the quality of some work, despite SSA's efforts. 

Increases to Field Office Staffing Since Fiscal Year 2008 Has Helped 
Field Offices to Meet Growing Claims Workloads: 

Field office staffing stayed about the same from fiscal year 2005 
through 2009, despite recent hiring, while the amount of work[Footnote 
3] that field offices produced increased by 2.1 percent (see table 1). 
As a result of greater efficiency, the average amount of work produced 
by field office employees increased by 2.6 percent from fiscal year 
2005 to 2009. In fiscal years 2008 and 2009, SSA hired a combined 
number of 4,931 staff for field offices, which helped to almost 
restore field offices to their fiscal year 2005 staffing level. The 
additional staffing helped to nearly erase field office staffing 
reductions in fiscal years 2006 and 2007. In our January 2009 report, 
we reported that field office staffing declined by 4.4 percent from 
fiscal years 2005 through 2008, but the amount of work that field 
offices produced had decreased by only 1.3 percent. 

Table 1: End of Fiscal Year Field Office Staffing and Work Completed, 
Fiscal Years 2005-2009: 

Fiscal year: 2005; 
End of fiscal year total number of SSA employees: 65,122; 
Number of field office employees: 28,790; 
Field office work (in work units): 37.1 million; 
Work units completed per employee: 1,289. 

Fiscal year: 2006; 
End of fiscal year total number of SSA employees: 63,054; 
Number of field office employees: 27,383; 
Field office work (in work units): 37.0 million; 
Work units completed per employee: 1,350. 

Fiscal year: 2007; 
End of fiscal year total number of SSA employees: 61,594; 
Number of field office employees: 26,743; 
Field office work (in work units): 36.2 million; 
Work units completed per employee: 1,352. 

Fiscal year: 2008; 
End of fiscal year total number of SSA employees: 63,202; 
Number of field office employees: 27,534; 
Field office work (in work units): 36.5 million; 
Work units completed per employee: 1,327. 

Fiscal year: 2009; 
End of fiscal year total number of SSA employees: 66,459; 
Number of field office employees: 28,656; 
Field office work (in work units): 37.9 million; 
Work units completed per employee: 1,322. 

Fiscal year: Percent change, 2005 - 2008; 
End of fiscal year total number of SSA employees: -2.9%; 
Number of field office employees: -4.4%; 
Field office work (in work units): -1.3%; 
Work units completed per employee: 3.0%. 

Fiscal year: Percent change, 2005 - 2009; 
End of fiscal year total number of SSA employees: 2.1%; 
Number of field office employees: -0.5%; 
Field office work (in work units): 2.1%; 
Work units completed per employee: 2.6%. 

Source: GAO analysis of SSA data. 

[End of table] 

Increases in SSA's fiscal year 2008 and 2009 budget appropriations and 
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funding enabled 
SSA to provide more staffing resources to field offices. Table 2 shows 
SSA's final appropriations for fiscal years 2002 through 2009. The 
table also shows the changes in recent staffing. 

Table 2: SSA's Limitation on Administrative Expenses Account and End 
of Year Total Number of SSA Employees, Fiscal Years 2002-2009: 

Fiscal year: 2002; 
Final appropriation: (in billions): $7,570; 
Total number of SSA employees: 63,611. 

Fiscal year: 2003; 
Final appropriation: (in billions): $7,885; 
Total number of SSA employees: 65,191. 

Fiscal year: 2004; 
Final appropriation: (in billions): $8,313; 
Total number of SSA employees: 64,184. 

Fiscal year: 2005; 
Final appropriation: (in billions): $8,733; 
Total number of SSA employees: 65,122. 

Fiscal year: 2006; 
Final appropriation: (in billions): $9,109; 
Total number of SSA employees: 63,054. 

Fiscal year: 2007; 
Final appropriation: (in billions): $9,298; 
Total number of SSA employees: 61,594. 

Fiscal year: 2008; 
Final appropriation: (in billions): $9,745; 
Total number of SSA employees: 63,202. 

Fiscal year: 2009; 
Final appropriation: (in billions): $11,544; 
Total number of SSA employees: 66,459. 

Source: GAO analysis of SSA data. 

Note: In fiscal year 2009, SSA received over a billion dollars in ARRA 
funding. This funding provided SSA $500 million to process retirement 
and disability workloads, $500 million for a new data center, and $90 
million to administer economic recovery payments of $250 per 
beneficiary. 

[End of table] 

According to SSA officials, SSA plans to maintain field office 
staffing levels in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 by providing for a 1:1 
replacement rate for staff who leave the agency. SSA is planning to 
use its fiscal year 2010 and 2011 funding to increase staffing in 
state DDS offices and SSA hearing offices to reduce disability 
backlogs; the Commissioner has identified reducing the appeals hearing 
backlog for disability cases as the agency's top priority. 

The demand for field office service and claims workloads has grown to 
record levels. Comparing fiscal years 2006 and 2009, visitor volume 
increased by about 3.2 million customers, from 41.9 million to 45.1 
million. If the visitor volume during the second half of fiscal year 
2010 is the same as the volume during the first half, the volume will 
again be 45.1 million by the end of the fiscal year. Also, from fiscal 
year 2005 through 2009, SSA processed a growing number of OASI, 
Disability, and SSI claims (nonmedical determinations only), which SSA 
attributes to the onset of the baby boom generation's retirements and 
the economic downturn (see figure 1). 

Figure 1: Number of OASI, Disability, and SSI Claims Receipts, Fiscal 
Years 2005-2009: 

[Refer to PDF for image: stacked vertical bar graph] 

Fiscal year: 2005; 
OASI: 3.7 million; 
DI: 2.5 million; 
SSI: 2.5 million; 
Total: 8.7 million. 

Fiscal year: 2006; 
OASI: 3.8 million; 
DI: 2.5 million; 
SSI: 2.6 million; 
Total: 8.9 million. 

Fiscal year: 2007; 
OASI: 3.8 million; 
DI: 2.6 million; 
SSI: 2.6 million; 
Total: 9.0 million. 

Fiscal year: 2008; 
OASI: 4.2 million; 
DI: 2.7 million; 
SSI: 2.7 million; 
Total: 9.6 million. 

Fiscal year: 2009; 
OASI: 4.7 million; 
DI: 3.2 million; 
SSI: 3.1 million; 
Total: 11.0 million. 

Source: GAO analysis of SSA data. 

[End of figure] 

SSA Has Used Several Different Strategies to Manage Growing Workloads: 

Even with the increases in field office staffing in fiscal years 2008 
and 2009, and some increases in average productivity by employees, 
many field office managers, responding to a survey conducted in 
February 2010 by the National Council of Social Security Management 
Association, Inc. (NCSSMA), [Footnote 4] stated that staffing levels 
are inadequate to deal with the growing public service challenges they 
face daily in field offices. In this survey, over 95 percent of the 
managers said that they need to hire at least one more employee to 
provide adequate public service, 89.2 percent said they need at least 
two more employees, and 71.2 percent said that they need at least 
three more employees. 

SSA continues to use various strategies to manage work in field 
offices, such as shifting work among field offices, based on their 
workloads, encouraging customers to make greater use of automated 
services, and deferring certain field office work. For example, if an 
office has work demands that it cannot immediately cover, that office 
can request that some work be transferred to another office. SSA is 
also encouraging customers to use automated services. SSA reported 
that in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, respectively, the public performed 
4.0 million and 6.1 million electronic transactions.[Footnote 5] SSA 
reported that electronic filings for retirement benefits grew from 
approximately 407,000 to 833,000 from fiscal year 2008 to 2009, 
respectively; this represented 18.9 percent and 32.2 percent of the 
total retirement applications filed in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. As 
result, SSA is making progress toward achieving the goal it set in its 
fiscal year 2008 Agency Strategic Plan to achieve an online filing 
rate of 50 percent of retirement applications by 2012. 

With regard to deferring work, SSA has deferred a significant number 
of SSI redeterminations since fiscal year 2003. Although SSA increased 
the number of SSI redeterminations in fiscal year 2009 above the 2008 
level, the number of reviews remains significantly below the fiscal 
year 2003 level. Specifically, SSA conducted about 719,000 or 30 
percent fewer SSI redeterminations in fiscal year 2009 than it did in 
fiscal year 2003. However, if SSA completes the number of SSI 
redeterminations it is projecting for fiscal year 2010, it will be 
close to the fiscal year 2003 level. Further, the Congress has stated 
that it is concerned about delays in processing work-related CDRs. Our 
data show that SSA increased work-related CDRs from about 106,500 in 
fiscal year 2003 to about 175,600 in fiscal year 2006. However, the 
number of work CDRs has decreased slightly since 2006, and SSA 
projects that it will conduct about 174,200 work CDRs in fiscal year 
2010 (see figure 2). 

Figure 2: Number of SSI Redeterminations and Work CDRs Completed, 
Fiscal Years 2003-2009 (Actual) and Fiscal Year 2010 (Projected): 

[Refer to PDF for image: multiple vertical bar graph] 

Fiscal year: 2003; 
SSI Non-disability determinations: 2.4 million; 
Work Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs): 0.1 million. 

Fiscal year: 2004; 
SSI Non-disability determinations: 2.3 million; 
Work Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs): 0.1 million. 

Fiscal year: 2005; 
SSI Non-disability determinations: 1.7 million; 
Work Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs): 0.1 million. 

Fiscal year: 2006; 
SSI Non-disability determinations: 1.1 million; 
Work Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs): 0.2 million. 

Fiscal year: 2007; 
SSI Non-disability determinations: 1.0 million; 
Work Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs): 0.2 million. 

Fiscal year: 2008; 
SSI Non-disability determinations: 1.2 million; 
Work Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs): 0.2 million. 

Fiscal year: 2009; 
SSI Non-disability determinations: 1.7 million; 
Work Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs): 0.2 million. 

Fiscal year: 2010; 
Projected SSI Non-disability determinations: 2.4 million; 
Projected Work Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs): 0.2 million. 

Source: GAO analysis of SSA data. 

Note: The numbers for SSI redeterminations include limited issues 
reviews. 

[End of figure] 

Reviews of continuing eligibility are key activities in ensuring that 
benefits are paid only to those individuals entitled to them. A fiscal 
year 2008 Supplemental Security Income Stewardship Report showed the 
correlation between the number of SSI redeterminations conducted and 
the overpayment accuracy rate. The data showed that as the number of 
SSI redeterminations and limited issue reviews decreased, the 
overpayment accuracy rate[Footnote 6] for SSI payments declined from 
93.6 percent in fiscal year 2005 to 89.7 percent in fiscal year 2008, 
the lowest level in over 30 years. The report stated that the primary 
reason for overpayment inaccuracies is failure of SSI recipients and 
their representative payees to report changes that affect payment, 
such as changes in income and resources. SSA estimates that CDRs yield 
a lifetime savings of about $10 for every dollar invested, while SSI 
redeterminations save $8 over 10 years for every dollar invested. 

Pressures to Meet Increased Workload Demands May Have Contributed to 
Adverse Effects on Field Office Operations: 

Pressures on field office staff to meet increased workload demands may 
have adversely affected the quality of some work. According to the 
2010 NCSSMA report, 87.4 percent of survey respondents reported that 
they receive complaints weekly from the public about the accuracy or 
timeliness of the work being produced, and 82.5 percent reported that 
the number of quality case reviews performed in their office is 
insufficient to ensure an accurate and timely work product. Also, 
although the percentage of customers rating SSA service favorably 
(excellent, very good, or good) has remained stable at 81 percent 
since fiscal year 2007, the rating has declined from its fiscal year 
2005 level of 85 percent, and continues to fall short of the agency's 
83 percent goal. 

Pressures on field office staff may have also contributed to a further 
decline in customers' satisfaction with field office service than in 
previous years. According to SSA's fiscal year 2008/2009 field office 
caller survey, 58 percent of callers got a busy signal or a recording 
that lines were busy when they called field offices--up from 45 
percent in fiscal year 2007, and 55 percent in fiscal year 2008. 
Because SSA based its results only on customers who were ultimately 
able to get through to the field offices, the actual percentage of 
customers that had unanswered calls was likely higher. The decline in 
field office phone service is further evidenced by results of the 2010 
NCSSMA report--64.6 percent of managers said that they were able to 
provide prompt telephone service less than half the time; virtually 
all of the managers (98.1 percent) reported that they receive weekly 
complaints about telephone service provided by their office; and 
another 67.8 percent of survey respondents said that the increased 
volume of visitors coming into their office is due in moderate or 
large part to the inability of their office to provide prompt 
telephone service. SSA has undertaken efforts to improve telephone 
service in field offices. SSA initiated a pilot program in 2007 called 
"Forward on Busy" in 25 field offices to address deficiencies with 
phone service. SSA has since converted the pilot into a regular 
program, and 147 offices are participating. Under the program, calls 
receiving a busy signal at field offices are automatically forwarded 
to a Teleservice Center. In another effort to improve its telephone 
service, SSA awarded a $300 million contract to build a Voice over 
Internet Protocol telephone system for field operations. This system 
will allow SSA to fully integrate its telephone system and data 
network, which will provide for faster call routing to any geographic 
location, and quicker access to caller information. 

While SSA made some improvements in customer waiting times in fiscal 
year 2009, SSA data show that the number of customers waiting for over 
2 hours remained about the same. Compared to fiscal year 2008 waiting 
times, SSA increased the number of customers who waited from 0-60 
minutes from 92.1 percent to 92.5 percent; decreased the number of 
customers who waited for 61-120 minutes from 6.8 percent to 6.6 
percent; and remained about the same (1 percent) for customers who 
waited for more than 2 hours (see table 3). 

Table 3: Fiscal Year 2008 and 2009 Waiting Times: 

Waiting times (in minutes): 0 to 60; 
Number of customers in Fiscal Year 2008: 38,081,208; 
Percentage of total: 92.1%; 
Number of customers in Fiscal Year 2009: 38,516,903; 
Percentage of total: 92.5%. 

Waiting times (in minutes): 61 to 120; 
Number of customers in Fiscal Year 2008: 2,826,377; 
Percentage of total: 6.8%; 
Number of customers in Fiscal Year 2009: 2,730,323; 
Percentage of total: 6.6%. 

Waiting times (in minutes): More than 120; 
Number of customers in Fiscal Year 2008: 435,301; 
Percentage of total: 1.1%; 
Number of customers in Fiscal Year 2009: 400,630; 
Percentage of total: 1.0%. 

Source: SSA data. 

Note: The waiting time data for fiscal year 2008 differs from that 
presented in our January 2009 report because SSA updated the wait time 
data for an additional 3 million customers. 

[End of table] 

In our January 2009 report, we recommended that SSA establish 
standards for field office customer waiting times and phone service to 
help identify and improve offices with poor service. SSA did not act 
on this recommendation stating that it would create problems by 
diverting staff already spread thin across field offices. 

SSA Has Not Developed a Plan to Describe How It will Address Future 
Service Delivery Challenges: 

SSA has not yet offered a plan to detail how it will continue to do 
more work with fewer resources and achieve its strategic goals. In our 
2009 report and prior reports, we recommended that SSA develop a 
service delivery plan to outline how it would deliver quality service 
while managing growing work demands and limited resources. SSA 
partially agreed with our recommendation, stating that it had a number 
of documents, including its strategic plan, which discusses how it 
will meet future service delivery needs. However, because of a 
continuing concern about the agency's lack of a consolidated plan to 
address service and staffing, SSA agreed to develop a single document 
to describe its plan for addressing future service delivery 
challenges. SSA officials did not provide us with an update on where 
the agency stood in developing this plan. 

With projected increases to SSA's workload from retirement and 
disability filings from the nation's baby boom generation, and a 
continued wave of retirements of experienced staff, the need for such 
a plan is greater than ever. For fiscal years 2010 through 2017, SSA 
projects that the agency will consistently have workloads of 
approximately 11 million claims (see figure 3), which is significantly 
higher than the workloads processed during fiscal years 2005 through 
2008, as previously noted in figure 1. 

Figure 3: Projected OASI, Disability, and SSI Claims, Fiscal Years 
2010-2017: 

[Refer to PDF for image: stacked vertical bar graph] 

Fiscal year: 2010; 
OASI: 4.7 million; 
DI: 3.6 million; 
SSI: 3.6 million; 
Total: 11.9 million. 

Fiscal year: 2011; 
OASI: 4.6 million; 
DI: 3.5 million; 
SSI: 3.2 million; 
Total: 11.3 million. 

Fiscal year: 2012; 
OASI: 4.6 million; 
DI: 3.4 million; 
SSI: 3.2 million; 
Total: 11.2 million. 

Fiscal year: 2013; 
OASI: 4.8 million; 
DI: 3.1 million; 
SSI: 2.9 million; 
Total: 10.8 million. 

Fiscal year: 2014; 
OASI: 5.0 million; 
DI: 2.9 million; 
SSI: 2.7 million; 
Total: 10.6 million. 

Fiscal year: 2015; 
OASI: 5.1 million; 
DI: 2.9 million; 
SSI: 2.8 million; 
Total: 10.8 million. 

Fiscal year: 2016; 
OASI: 5.3 million; 
DI: 2.9 million; 
SSI: 2.7 million; 
Total: 10.9 million. 

Fiscal year: 2017; 
OASI: 5.3 million; 
DI: 2.9 million; 
SSI: 2.8 million; 
Total: 11.0 million. 

Source: GAO analysis of SSA data. 

[End of figure] 

As we stated in our January 2009 report, it will be more difficult for 
SSA to meet higher workload challenges as a result of the anticipated 
retirement of many of the agency's most experienced field office 
workers. Based on SSA's projections, 22 percent of SSA's current 
workforce will retire by fiscal year 2013, and the figure will grow to 
41 percent by fiscal year 2018. SSA's projections show that a 
significant portion of the losses will come from supervisory staff, 
who are among the agency's most experienced staff. For example, SSA 
projects that 38 percent of supervisory staff are eligible to retire 
now, 54 percent will be eligible in five years, and 66 percent will be 
eligible in 10 years. It will take years for SSA to rebuild the 
decades of knowledge that will be lost from these retirements. Field 
office managers and staff we spoke to told us that it typically takes 
2 to 3 years for new employees to become fully proficient. Given this, 
SSA is likely to experience declines in productivity as new staff 
replace more experienced staff. Therefore, SSA will need to do more to 
compensate for such declines. 

Concluding Observations: 

While SSA is managing increasing workloads resulting from growing 
retirement and disability claims, it still faces the challenge of 
providing quality service. SSA's management of increased workloads 
came at a cost--the accuracy rate for SSI overpayments fell to the 
lowest level in 30 years, and some customer service continues to 
decline. These problems may become more severe as workloads continue 
to grow from the nation's baby boom generation, waves of SSA's most 
experienced staff retire, and the current level of field office 
staffing stays flat. Such challenges make it essential for SSA to 
develop a plan to manage its increasing workload. Whether SSA will 
need more resources or an altered field office infrastructure, or 
both, is unclear. We still believe that a detailed service delivery 
plan should make this clear, and if additional resources are needed to 
achieve agencywide goals, SSA should identify the resources required 
to meet long-term service delivery needs. 

Mr. Chairman, this completes my prepared statement. I would be happy 
to respond to any questions you or other Members of the Subcommittee 
may have at this time. 

Contacts and Acknowledgment: 

For further questions about this statement, please contact Barbara D. 
Bovbjerg at (202) 512-7215 or bovbjergb@gao.gov. Individuals making 
key contributions to this statement included Blake Ainsworth, Mary 
Crenshaw, Paul Wright, and Charlie Willson. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] GAO, Social Security Administration: Service Delivery Plan Needed 
to Address Baby Boom Retirement Challenges [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-24] (Washington, D.C.: January 
2009). 

[2] SSA also conducts "medical" CDRs. While SSA evaluates non-medical 
factors to determine a person's continued eligibility for Disability 
benefits, DDSs evaluate whether a person has medically improved to the 
point that they are able to work. 

[3] SSA measures the amount of work produced by multiplying the volume 
of actions completed by the amount of time required to complete each 
type of action. The result is what SSA terms "work units." Because 
some types of actions take longer than others to complete, SSA views 
work units as a more precise measure than a simple count of the number 
of actions completed. 

[4] NCSSMA is a membership organization of approximately 3,400 SSA 
managers and supervisors who provide leadership in field offices and 
Teleservice Centers throughout the country. 

[5] Our January 2009 report (GAO-09-24) stated that SSA reported 3.7 
million electronic transactions. However, SSA updated the figure to 
4.0 million based on more recent data. 

[6] The overpayment accuracy rate is the percentage of dollars paid 
that are free of overpayment errors. The accuracy rate was derived 
using data from the review of SSI cases with a payment made in at 
least one month of the fiscal year under review. 

[End of section] 

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