This is the accessible text file for GAO report number GAO-03-117 
entitled 'Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Social 
Security Administration' which was released on January 01, 2003.

This text file was formatted by the U.S. General Accounting Office 

(GAO) to be accessible to users with visual impairments, as part of a 

longer term project to improve GAO products’ accessibility. Every 

attempt has been made to maintain the structural and data integrity of 

the original printed product. Accessibility features, such as text 

descriptions of tables, consecutively numbered footnotes placed at the 

end of the file, and the text of agency comment letters, are provided 

but may not exactly duplicate the presentation or format of the printed 

version. The portable document format (PDF) file is an exact electronic 

replica of the printed version. We welcome your feedback. Please E-mail 

your comments regarding the contents or accessibility features of this 

document to

Performance and Accountability Series:

January 2003:

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks:

Social Security Administration:


A Glance at the Agency Covered in This Report:

The Social Security Administration’s mission is to promote the 

economic security of the nation’s people. It administers three major 

federal programs that provide benefits to more than 50 million people:

* Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance, together 

commonly known as Social Security, provide benefits to retired and 

disabled workers and their dependents and survivors. These benefits 

are paid from trust funds financed through payroll taxes paid by 

workers and their employers and by the self-employed.

* Supplemental Security Income provides income for aged, blind, or 

disabled individuals with limited income and resources and is financed 

from general tax revenues.

The Social Security Administration’s Budgetary and Staff Resources

[See PDF for image]

a. Budgetary resources include new budget authority (BA) and 

unobligated balances of previous BA. Totals include trust fund as well 

as general fund dollars.

b. Budget and staff resources are actuals for FY 1998-2001. FY 2002 

are estimates from the FY 2003 budget, which are the latest publicly 

available figures on a consistent basis as of January 2003. Actuals 

for FY 2002 will be contained in the President’s FY 2004 budget to be 

released in February 2003.

Source: Budget of the United States Government.

[End of figure]

This Series:

This report is part of a special GAO series, first issued in 1999 

and updated in 2001, entitled the Performance and Accountability 

Series: Major Management Challenges and Program Risks. The 2003 

Performance and Accountability Series contains separate reports 

covering each cabinet department, most major independent agencies, 

and the U.S. Postal Service. The series also includes a governmentwide 

perspective on transforming the way the government does business in 

order to meet 21st century challenges and address long-term fiscal 

needs. The companion 2003 High-Risk Series: An Update identifies 

areas at high risk due to either their greater vulnerabilities to 

waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or major challenges associated 

with their economy, efficiency, or effectiveness. A list of all of the 

reports in this series is included at the end of this report.

GAO Highlights:

Highlights of GAO-03-117, a report to Congress included as part of 

GAO’s Performance and Accountability Series

Why GAO Did This Report:

In its 2001 performance and accountability report on the Social 

Security Administration (SSA), GAO identified important issues 

relating to research capacity, its process for determining disability, 

management of a high-risk Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, 

future service delivery plans, and protection of information facing 

the agency. The information GAO presents in this report is intended 

to help to sustain congressional attention and an agency focus on 

continuing to make progress in addressing these challenges and 

ultimately overcoming them.  This report is part of a special series 

of reports on governmentwide and agency-specific issues.

What GAO Found:

SSA has made progress in addressing problems with the integrity of 

the SSI program and in playing a more active role in research, 

evaluation, and policy development.  Nevertheless, because of 

ongoing concerns about the positioning of SSA’s disability programs 

to provide meaningful and timely support to Americans with 

disabilities, GAO has added modernizing federal disability 

programs to the 2003 high-risk list. In addition, the agency 

is continuing to face management challenges and needs to:  

* Continue to strengthen the integrity of the SSI program.  

SSA’s progress in developing new tools to improve SSI’s financial 

integrity and management warrants removing the program’s high-risk 

designation. However, the agency must completely implement the 

reforms it has undertaken and identify and move forward with options 

to simplify the program’s complex policies.

* Improve SSA’s programs that provide support for individuals with 

disabilities.  Improving these programs will require updating 

disability criteria to reflect advances in medicine and technology, 

and changes in the workforce and developing a comprehensive 

return-to-work strategy.  Further, after years of efforts to redesign 

its disability claims process, applicants still face a time-consuming 

process. However, the agency’s new Commissioner has made its 

improvement a priority and has implemented several short-term 

initiatives to speed up the processing of disability claims on 


* Better position SSA for future service delivery challenges. 

SSA has conducted extensive analyses of future staff retirements, 

but it has made decisions about succession planning and allowed 

early retirements without a concrete service delivery plan to 

detail how and where it will provide services in the future. 

In addition, its investments in information technology to 

facilitate service delivery need to be more closely tied to 

service delivery goals and objectives.

* Strengthen controls to protect the personal information SSA 

develops and maintains.  Concerns about the widespread use of social 

security numbers (SSN), compounded by the terrorist attacks on 

September 11, 2001, have heightened the need to assess how SSNs 

are issued and protected and how Social Security data are used by 

law enforcement agencies in safeguarding national security.  Since 

the attacks, SSA has further restricted the assignment of SSNs to 

individuals not authorized to work and implemented new procedures 

for verifying the authenticity of identity documents to ensure that 

only those with a legal right to SSNs receive them.

What Remains to Be Done:

GAO believes that SSA should

* sustain and expand the range of SSI program integrity 

initiatives underway,

* develop a long-term strategy for improving timeliness of claims 

processing and consistency in decisionmaking, 

* develop a comprehensive return-to-work strategy for 

individuals with disabilities, and

* develop a concrete service delivery plan.

To view the full report, click on the link above. For more 

information, contact Barbara D. Bovbjerg at (202) 512-7215 


Transmittal Letter:

Major Performance and Accountability Challenges:

GAO Contacts:

Related GAO Products:

Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series:

This is a work of the U.S. Government and is not subject to 

copyright protection in the United States. It may be reproduced 

and distributed  in its entirety without further permission from 

GAO. It may contain copyrighted graphics, images or other 

materials. Permission from the copyright holder may be necessary 

should you wish to reproduce copyrighted materials separately 

from GAO’s product.

Transmittal Letter January 2003:

The President of the Senate

The Speaker of the House of Representatives:

This report addresses the major management challenges facing the Social 

Security Administration (SSA) as it seeks to carry out its goal to 

“promote the economic security of the nation’s people through 

compassionate and vigilant leadership in shaping and managing America’s 

social security programs.” This report discusses the actions that SSA 

has taken and that are under way to address the challenges GAO 

identified in its Performance and Accountability Series 2 years ago, 

and major events that have occurred that significantly influence the 

environment in which the agency carries out its mission. Also, this 

report summarizes the challenges that remain and further actions that 

GAO believes are needed.

This analysis should help the new Congress and the administration carry 

out their responsibilities and improve government for the benefit of 

the American people. For additional information about this report, 

please contact Barbara D. Bovbjerg, Director, Education, Workforce, and 

Income Security, at (202) 512-7215 or at

David M. Walker

Comptroller General of the United States:

Signed by David M. Walker

Major Performance and Accountability Challenges:

In our January 2001 management challenges report,[Footnote 1] we 

identified the following performance and management challenges that the 

Social Security Administration (SSA) needed to face: (1) playing an 

active research, evaluation, and policy development role; (2) improving 

its disability determination and return-to-work processes; (3) 

sustaining management and oversight of long-standing, high-risk 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) issues; (4) better positioning 

itself for future service delivery challenges; and (5) further 

strengthening controls to protect SSA information.

Our January 2001 report also identified the long-term solvency and 

sustainability of the social security system as one of the most urgent 

policy challenges facing the nation and SSA. At issue is how to make 

SSA’s programs fiscally sustainable as life expectancy increases and 

large numbers of Americans born in the baby boom generation become 

eligible for retirement. Over the past few years, a wide array of 

proposals has been put forth to restore Social Security’s long-term 

solvency, and in December 2001, a commission appointed by the President 

presented three alternative proposals for reform. However, as the time 

approaches when Social Security’s expenditures will exceed its income, 

there is still no consensus on a plan for reforming the social security 

system. Although policy decisions regarding Social Security’s future 

are urgently needed, the challenges of addressing this problem are of a 

policy nature, and are not yet management challenges. Decisions about 

Social Security’s future, once made, will pose implementation 

challenges that may well challenge SSA’s management capacity farther in 

the future.

Since our January 2001 report, two events have occurred that have 

influenced the assessment of SSA’s management challenges. First, the 

terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the indication that some 

of the terrorists fraudulently obtained social security numbers (SSN) 

have heightened concerns about protecting personal information and 

raised new concerns about using personal information such as the SSN. 

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, there is a greater urgency 

to find the proper balance between the widespread and legitimate uses 

of personal information such as SSNs by both government and the private 

sector and the need to protect SSNs from nonlegitimate access and use. 

Second, with the confirmation of a new Commissioner to a 6-year term in 

November 2001, SSA has sharpened its focus on addressing the challenges 

we previously identified. Building on work begun under the prior 

Commissioner, the agency has made considerable progress in addressing 

weaknesses in the integrity of the SSI program since our 2001 

management challenges report. For example, SSA developed new tools to 

verify financial eligibility, established access to electronic 

databases to facilitate more timely verification of eligibility 

information, and expanded the methods it uses to collect overpayments. 

We are satisfied that this progress is sufficient to remove the high-

risk designation of the integrity of the SSI program but caution that 

sustained management attention is needed to ensure that the 

implementation of all reforms is completed. Therefore, strengthening 

the integrity of the SSI program remains a major management challenge. 

Likewise, SSA has taken steps to strengthen its research, evaluation, 

and policy development activities such as funding outside research 

through its Retirement Research Consortium and Disability Research 

Institute and we have eliminated this issue as a separate management 

challenge. Nevertheless, the maintenance of these capabilities is vital 

to informing the debate over the long-term solvency of the social 

security system as well as addressing SSA’s continuing management 

challenges, particularly in the disability area.

In spite of the increased focus on addressing the challenges we 

identified in our January 2001 report, many challenges remain. For 

example, while SSA has taken some steps to plan better for future 

service delivery changes and the information technology to support 

them, much work remains. Of greater concern are the complex challenges 

facing SSA’s disability programs. SSA paid nearly $80 billion in cash 

benefits to nearly 11 million people with a work-related disability and 

their families in 2001. These programs are growing, despite greater 

opportunities for people with disabilities to work. This growth is 

occurring at the same time that SSA is struggling to provide timely, 

consistent disability decisions to applicants. While the agency is 

taking actions to address these problems in the short term, longer-term 

solutions must include more fundamental changes to the programs, 

including those that may require legislative action. Because of these 

sustained challenges, we have added modernizing federal disability 

programs to our 2003 high-risk list.

In summary, SSA faces the following major management challenges that 

will further affect its ability to administer critical programs.

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

SSA’s Progress in Addressing SSI Overpayment Issues Warrants Removal of 

High-Risk Designation, but Management Challenges Remain:

The SSI program is the nation’s largest cash assistance program for the 

poor. We designated SSI a high-risk program in 1997, after several 

years of reporting on specific instances of abuse and mismanagement, 

increasing overpayments, and poor recovery of outstanding SSI 

overpayments. The SSI program poses a special challenge for SSA 

because, unlike Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability 

Insurance (DI), it is a means-tested program; thus, SSA must collect 

and verify information on income, resources, and recipient living 

arrangements to determine initial and continuing eligibility for the 


In response to our high-risk designation, SSA has made sufficient 

progress in improving SSI’s financial integrity and management to 

warrant removing its high-risk designation. SSA’s actions include 

developing a major SSI legislative proposal with numerous overpayment 

deterrence and recovery provisions. Many of these provisions were 

incorporated into the Foster Care Independence Act, which was signed 

into law in December 1999. The act directly addresses a number of our 

prior recommendations and provides SSA with additional tools to obtain 

applicant income and resource information from financial institutions; 

imposes a period of ineligibility for applicants who transfer assets to 

qualify for SSI benefits; and authorizes the use of credit bureaus, 

private collection agencies, interest levies, and other means to 

recover overpayments. SSA also obtained separate legislative authority 

in 1998 to recover overpayments from former SSI recipients who 

currently receive OASI or DI benefits and has recently begun the 

process of recovering overpayments from Social Security benefits of 

individuals no longer on the SSI rolls.

In addition to obtaining the new legislative authorities, SSA has 

initiated a number of internal administrative actions to further 

strengthen SSI program integrity. These include using tax refund 

offsets for collecting SSI overpayments, an action that SSA said 

resulted in $221 million in additional overpayment recoveries from 1998 

through the end of calendar year 2001. SSA also uses more frequent 

(monthly) automated matches to identify ineligible SSI recipients 

living in nursing homes and other institutions. As of January 2001, 

SSA’s field offices also gained on-line access to wage, new-hire, and 

unemployment insurance data maintained by the Office of Child Support 

Enforcement. These data are key to field staff’s ability to more 

quickly verify employment and income information essential to 

determining SSI eligibility and benefit levels. Since 1998, the number 

of state agencies allowing direct SSA on-line access to state data has 

nearly doubled. In addition, SSA increased the number of SSI financial 

redeterminations that it conducted, from about 1.8 million in fiscal 

year 1997 to about 2.4 million in fiscal year 2001. These reviews focus 

on income and resource factors affecting eligibility and payment 


SSA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has also increased the level of 

resources and staff devoted to investigating SSI fraud and abuse. Key 

among these efforts is the formation of Cooperative Disability 

Investigation teams in 13 field locations. These teams are designed to 

identify fraud and abuse before SSI benefits are approved and paid. 

Finally, in response to our prior recommendation,[Footnote 2] SSA has 

revised its field office work credit and measurement system to better 

reward staff for time spent developing fraud referrals. If properly 

implemented, such measures should provide field staff with much needed 

incentives for preventing fraud and abuse and controlling overpayments.

Although SSA’s current initiatives demonstrate a stronger management 

commitment to SSI integrity issues and have the potential to 

significantly improve program management, their impacts are still not 

fully realized. A number of the agency’s initiatives--especially those 

associated with the Foster Care Independence Act--are in the early 

planning or implementation stages and have yet to yield results. In 

addition, at this stage, the effect of SSA’s enhanced matching efforts, 

on-line access tools, and other internal initiatives on the agency’s 

ability to recover and avoid overpayments is unknown. Also unknown is 

the effect of the agency’s efforts to improve the accuracy of SSI 

financial eligibility decisions. Thus, ongoing and outstanding 

overpayments are still at high levels, even though the prospects for 

reduction have improved.

SSA also has not yet addressed a key program vulnerability--program 

complexity--that is associated with SSI overpayments. In prior work, we 

have reported that SSI living arrangement and in-kind support and 

maintenance policies used by SSA to calculate eligibility and benefit 

amounts were complex, prone to error, and a major source of 

overpayments.[Footnote 3] In the same report, we also recommended that 

SSA develop options for simplifying the program. Last year, SSA’s 

policy office issued a study that discussed various options for 

simplifying complex SSI policies. Although SSA is considering various 

options, it has not moved forward in recommending specific proposals 

for change.

We believe that sustained management attention is necessary to improve 

SSI program integrity. Following our most recent review of SSA’s 

progress,[Footnote 4] the agency agreed with our recommendations to:

* sustain and expand its program integrity activities underway and 

continue to develop additional tools to improve program operations and 


* identify and move forward with implementing cost-effective options 

for simplifying complex policies;

* evaluate current policies for applying penalties for individuals who 

fail to report essential eligibility information and remove barriers to 

their use and effectiveness; and:

* reexamine its policies for waiving recovery of SSI overpayments.

Long-Standing Challenges in SSA’s Disability Programs Warrant High-Risk 


SSA’s disability programs have been growing and are poised to grow even 

more rapidly as more baby boomers reach their disability-prone years. 

Yet the statutory and regulatory design of these programs remain mired 

in concepts from the past and are poorly positioned to provide 

meaningful and timely support for Americans with disabilities. These 

outdated concepts persist despite scientific advances and economic and 

social changes that have redefined the relationship between impairments 

and the ability to work. In addition, while SSA has taken some steps in 

trying to return beneficiaries to work, it has not developed, as we 

have recommended, a comprehensive return-to-work strategy that focuses 

on identifying and enhancing beneficiaries’ work capacities. Finally, 

as the programs have grown, SSA has struggled to provide timely and 

consistent disability decisions to program applicants. SSA’s new 

Commissioner has made some progress addressing some of these problems 

and the agency has implemented some short-term remedies while it is 

developing longer-range plans to solve these problems. However, much 

more work needs to be done. Ultimately, developing solutions to the 

problems facing these disability programs will require consultation and 

cooperation between the executive and legislative branches as well as 

cross-agency efforts, and will likely require statutory as well as 

regulatory action. Our designation of SSA’s disability programs as high 

risk can serve as a catalyst to bring together the partners needed to 

resolve these long-standing problems. As we have previously stated, as 

the primary manager of multibillion dollar programs and as the entity 

with fiduciary responsibility for the trust funds, SSA must take the 

lead in forging the partnerships and cooperation that will be needed in 

reorienting the federal disability programs.[Footnote 5]

Reexamination of Disability Criteria Needed to Acknowledge Changes in 

Medicine as Well as the Economy and Labor Market:

To modernize the disability programs, SSA needs to reexamine the 

criteria it uses to determine whether individuals are disabled. The 

criteria include medical as well as vocational factors. Over time, 

medical and technological advances have provided a better understanding 

of how medical conditions affect the ability to work. Likewise, changes 

in the labor market have affected the skills needed to perform work and 

the settings in which work occurs. However, SSA has not fully updated 

its disability criteria to determine who is unable to work to reflect 

these changes. Using outdated information raises questions about the 

validity of its disability decisions, and SSA risks overcompensating 

some individuals while undercompensating or denying compensation 

entirely to others.

About 12 years ago, SSA began reviewing relevant medical advances and 

updating the criteria used to evaluate disability claims. These updates 

include adding or dropping conditions that qualify one for benefits, 

modifying the criteria needed to establish the presence and severity of 

certain medical conditions, and wording changes for clarification and 

guidance in decision making. SSA’s efforts to update the criteria were 

curtailed in the mid-1990s due to staff shortages, competing 

priorities, and lack of adequate research on disability issues. The 

updates resumed in 1998, but progress has been slow and the lengthy 

time frames could undermine the very purpose of an update. Keeping to a 

set schedule and making necessary updates could help SSA minimize the 

use of outmoded criteria in a large number of disability decisions.

In addition, because of the limited role of treatment in the statutory 

and regulatory design of the programs, the updates have not fully 

captured the benefits afforded by advances in treatment. SSA’s 

regulations require that in order to receive benefits, claimants must 

follow treatment prescribed by the individual’s physician, if the 

treatment can restore his or her ability to work. The implication of 

this regulation is that if an individual is not prescribed treatment, 

SSA does not consider the possible effects of treatment in the 

disability decision, even if the treatment could make the difference 

between being able and not being able to work. Moreover, the disability 

programs do not require individuals to receive nonprescribed treatment 

before or during the time they are assessed for eligibility. Thus, 

treatments that can help restore functioning to persons with certain 

impairments may not be factored into the disability decision for some 

applicants. For example, the effects that medication to control severe 

mental illness may have on an applicant’s ability to work are not 

automatically factored into SSA’s disability decision making. Likewise, 

efforts to update the programs’ criteria have not incorporated 

innovations in assistive technologies--such as advanced prosthetics and 

wheelchairs--because of similar program design issues.

Further, SSA’s disability criteria have not incorporated labor market 

changes. For applicants who do not have impairments that SSA presumes 

are severe enough ordinarily to prevent work, SSA evaluates whether 

they are able to work despite their limitations. Individuals who are 

unable to perform their previous work and other work in the national 

economy are awarded benefits. SSA uses an outdated database--last 

updated in 1991--for information on the types and demands of 

occupations in the national economy in determining the impact that 

impairments have on individuals’ earning capacity. The agency is 

working on identifying a replacement database, but this could take 

years to complete.

While SSA has not fully updated its disability criteria, it has started 

a number of studies that recognize that medical advances and social 

changes require the disability program to evolve. SSA has funded a 

project through its Disability Research Institute (DRI)[Footnote 6] to 

design a study assessing the validity of its medical criteria as 

measures of disability and has begun work to design a study to identify 

the most salient job demands compared to a claimant’s remaining 

capacity for work. In addition, SSA has funded a study through the DRI 

to examine the impact and cost of assistive technology on employment of 

persons with spinal cord injuries.

Updating disability criteria within existing program structures is 

prudent, not only as a means to best ensure program integrity, but also 

for SSA to meet its fiduciary responsibilities for public funds. To 

fully incorporate scientific advances and labor market changes into the 

disability programs would require more fundamental change, such as 

revisiting the programs’ basic orientation. Reorienting programs in 

this direction would align them with broader social changes that focus 

on building and supporting the work capacities of people with 

disabilities. Such a reorientation would require examining complex 

program design issues such as beneficiaries’ access to medical care and 

assistive technologies, the benefits offered and their associated 

costs, mechanisms to return beneficiaries to work, as well as the 

integration of SSA’s programs with other programs and policies 

affecting people with disabilities. Success in implementing fundamental 

change to the orientation of the disability programs will be dependent 

upon consultation and cooperation between the executive and legislative 

branches as well as cross-agency efforts, and will likely require 

statutory as well as regulatory action.

SSA Lacks a Comprehensive Strategy to Return People with Disabilities 

to Work:

The number of working-age beneficiaries of the DI and SSI programs has 

increased by 61 percent over the past 10 years, even as changes in 

medicine, technology, society, and the nature of work have increased 

the potential for some people with disabilities to return to, or remain 

in, the labor force. Legislative changes have also focused on returning 

disability beneficiaries to work. The Americans with Disabilities Act 

of 1990 supports the premise that people with disabilities can work and 

have the right to work, and the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives 

Improvement Act of 1999 increased beneficiaries’ access to vocational 

services. Indeed, many beneficiaries with disabilities indicate that 

they want to work, and many may be able to work in today’s labor market 

if they receive needed support. In 1996, we recommended that SSA place 

a greater priority on helping disabled beneficiaries work,[Footnote 7] 

and the agency has taken a number of actions to improve its return-to-

work practices. But even with these actions, SSA has achieved poor 

results in this arena and few DI and SSI beneficiaries leave the 

disability rolls to work.

Even in light of the Ticket to Work Act, SSA will continue to face 

difficulties in returning beneficiaries to work, in part, owing to 

weaknesses, both statutory and policy, in the design of the disability 

programs. As we have reported in the past, these weaknesses include an 

either-or disability decision-making process that characterizes 

individuals as either unable to work or having the capacity to work and 

therefore ineligible for benefits.[Footnote 8] This either-or process 

produces a strong incentive for applicants to establish their inability 

to work to qualify for benefits.

Moreover, return-to-work services are offered only after a lengthy 

determination process. Because applicants are either unemployed or only 

marginally connected to the labor force when they apply and remain so 

during the eligibility determination process, their skills, work 

habits, and motivation to work are likely to deteriorate during this 

wait. Thus, individuals who have successfully established their 

disability may have little reason or desire to attempt rehabilitation 

and work. Unlike some private sector disability insurers and foreign 

social insurance systems, SSA does not incorporate into its initial or 

continuing eligibility assessment process an evaluation of what is 

needed for an individual to return to work. Instead of receiving 

assistance to stay in the workforce or return to work--and thus to stay 

off the long-term disability rolls--an individual can obtain assistance 

through DI or SSI only by proving his or her inability to work. And 

even in its efforts to redesign the decision-making process, SSA has 

yet to incorporate into these initiatives an evaluation of what an 

individual may need to return to work.

In addition, SSA has made limited progress in developing baseline data 

to measure progress in the return-to-work area. In June 2000, we 

reported that many of SSA’s fiscal year 2001 performance measures were 

not sufficiently results-oriented, making it difficult to track 

progress.[Footnote 9] SSA’s fiscal year 2002 performance plan showed 

that it had begun to incorporate more outcome-oriented performance 

indicators that could support its efforts in this area. Two new 

indicators, in particular, could help SSA gauge progress: (1) the 

percentage increase in the number of DI beneficiaries whose benefits 

are suspended or terminated owing to employment and (2) the percentage 

increase in the number of disabled SSI beneficiaries no longer 

receiving cash benefits. However, SSA did not set specific performance 

targets for these measures, but instead established interim indicators 

to measure the start of work activity. In its 2003 performance plan, 

SSA has refined these interim indicators to more closely track outcomes 

related to employment, but it has postponed implementing the permanent 

indicators from 2005 until 2007 while it develops new computer systems 

to collect data to measure these indicators.

SSA has nevertheless recently stepped up its return-to-work efforts, in 

part, in response to mandates from the Ticket to Work legislation. For 

example, it has (1) established an Office of Employment Support 

Programs to promote the employment of beneficiaries with disabilities; 

(2) recruited more than 400 public or private entities to provide 

vocational rehabilitation, employment, and other support services to 

beneficiaries under the Ticket to Work Program; (3) raised and indexed 

to a measure of wage growth the limit on the amount a DI beneficiary 

can earn from work and still receive benefits to encourage people with 

disabilities to work; 

(4) funded 12 state partnership agreements that are intended to help 

the states develop services to increase beneficiary employment; (5) 

provided funding to more than 100 community-based organizations to help 

provide work incentives planning and assistance to beneficiaries; and 

(6) completed a pilot study on the deployment of work incentive 

specialists to SSA field offices and is currently determining how to 

best implement the position nationally.

Further, SSA has progressed in researching issues related to return-to-

work through its DRI. Current research underway includes: (1) designing 

a demonstration to provide earlier return-to-work services to DI 

applicants who are likely to be found eligible; (2) exploring the paths 

DI applicants and beneficiaries took to the benefit program to 

determine whether SSA might be able to redirect some applicants to work 

rather than a prolonged stay on the benefit rolls; (3) examining how 

the onset of disability early in life affects later employment 

outcomes; and (4) analyzing and facilitating the transition to 

employment of youths with disabilities.

While these efforts represent positive steps in trying to return people 

with disabilities to work, much remains to be done. As we have 

recommended previously, SSA still needs to move forward in developing a 

comprehensive return-to-work strategy that integrates, as appropriate, 

earlier intervention, including earlier and more effective 

identification of work capacities and the expansion of such capacities 

by providing essential return-to-work assistance for applicants and 

beneficiaries.[Footnote 10] Adopting such a strategy is likely to 

require improvements to staff skill levels and areas of expertise, as 

well as changes to the disability determination process. It will also 

require fundamental changes to the underlying philosophy and direction 

of the DI and SSI programs, as well as legislative changes in some 

cases. Policymakers will need to carefully weigh the implications of 

such changes. Nevertheless, we remain concerned that the absence of 

such a strategy and accompanying performance plan goals may hinder 

SSA’s efforts to make significant strides in the return-to-work area, 

including its efforts to improve the disability determination process. 

An improved return-to-work strategy could benefit both the 

beneficiaries who want to work and the American taxpayer.

Results of Efforts to Improve the Disability Claims Process Have Been 


SSA’s disability determination process is time-consuming, complex, and 

expensive. The agency has been working for years to improve this 

process, yet, ensuring the quality and timeliness of its disability 

decisions remains one of SSA’s greatest challenges. Individuals who are 

initially denied benefits by SSA and appeal their claims may wait a 

year or more for a final decision on their eligibility. These long 

waits result, in part, from complex and fragmented decision-making 

processes that are laden with many layers of reviews and multiple 

handoffs from one person to another. The cost of administering the DI 

and SSI programs reflects the demanding nature of the process. Although 

SSI and DI program benefits account for less than 

20 percent of the total benefit payments made by SSA, they consume 

nearly 55 percent of the annual administrative resources.

In addition to its difficulties in processing claims, SSA has also had 

difficulty ensuring that decisions regarding a claimant’s eligibility 

for disability benefits are accurate and consistent across all levels 

of the decision-making process. Our work shows that in fiscal year 

2000, about 

40 percent of the applicants whose cases were denied at the initial 

level appealed this decision and about two-thirds of those who appealed 

were awarded benefits.[Footnote 11] This happens in part because 

decision makers at the initial level use a different approach to 

evaluate claims and make decisions than those at the appellate level. 

The inconsistency of decisions at these two levels has raised questions 

about the fairness, integrity, and cost of SSA’s disability programs.

In 1994, SSA laid out a plan to address these problems; however, that 

plan and three subsequent revisions have yielded only limited success. 

Among other things, SSA planned to develop a streamlined decision-

making and appeal process, more consistent guidance and training for 

decision makers at all levels of the process, and an improved process 

for reviewing the quality of eligibility decisions. Our reviews of 

SSA’s efforts found that the agency had accomplished little.[Footnote 

12] In some cases, the plans were too large and too complex to keep on 

track, and the results of many of the initiatives that were tested fell 

far short of expectations. Moreover, the agency was not able to garner 

consistent stakeholder support and cooperation for its proposed 

changes. Despite the overall disappointing progress, the agency did 

issue formal guidance in a number of areas intended to improve the 

consistency of decisions between the initial and appellate levels.

Overall, however, significant problems persist and difficult decisions 

remain. For example, SSA is currently collecting data on the results 

from an initiative known as the Prototype, which was implemented in 10 

states in October 1999 to test several modifications to the disability 

determination process. Although interim data indicated that the 

Prototype would result in more awards made correctly at the initial 

level, it also would increase the number of appeals of denied claims. 

This, in turn, would result in both higher administrative and benefit 

costs and lengthen the wait for final decisions on claims. As a result, 

SSA modified the Prototype initiative and is collecting more data on 

results. It remains to be seen whether these revisions will retain the 

positive results from the Prototype while also controlling 

administrative and program costs.

Even more pressing in the near term is the management and workload 

crisis that SSA faces in its hearings offices. The agency’s 1999 plan 

included an initiative to overhaul operations at its hearing offices to 

increase efficiency and significantly reduce processing times at that 

level; however, this nationwide effort has not only failed to achieve 

its goals, it has, in some cases, made things worse. The initiative has 

suffered, in part, from problems associated with implementing large-

scale changes too quickly without resolving known problems. As a 

result, the average case processing time slowed and backlogs of cases 

waiting to be processed approached crisis levels. We have recommended 

that the Commissioner act quickly to implement short-term strategies to 

reduce the backlog and develop a long-range strategy for a more 

permanent solution to the backlog and efficiency problems at the Office 

of Hearings and Appeals.[Footnote 13] According to SSA officials, they 

have implemented several short-term initiatives not requiring statutory 

or regulatory changes to reduce hearing office processing times and 

backlogs. These include new formats and software to facilitate the 

issuance of favorable decisions, guidelines for the issuance of 

favorable bench decisions, and awarding contracts to speed the assembly 

of hearing files.

Finally, SSA’s 1994 plan to redesign the claims process called for the 

agency to revamp its existing quality assurance system. However, 

because of disagreement among SSA and state employee groups, unions, 

and interest groups on how to accomplish this difficult objective, 

progress in this area has been limited. We agreed with a March 2001 

contractor assessment that a significant overhaul was needed to 

encompass a more comprehensive view of quality management and 

recommended that SSA develop an action plan for implementing a more 

comprehensive and sophisticated quality assurance program.[Footnote 

14] Since then, the new Commissioner has signaled the high priority she 

attaches to this effort by appointing a senior manager for quality who 

reports directly to her. The senior manager and her team have devised a 

4-phase strategy to establish a quality oriented approach to all SSA 

processes. As part of the first phase, the team has developed an agency 

level definition of quality that incorporates the elements of accuracy, 

timeliness, productivity, cost, and customer service.

The limited results of some of these initiatives can be linked, in 

part, to slow progress in incorporating technological improvements into 

the disability determination process. As originally envisioned, SSA’s 

redesign plan depended on these improvements. After spending about 7 

years designing and developing a new computer software application to 

automate the disability claims process, SSA decided to discontinue the 

initiative in July 1999, citing software performance problems and 

delays in developing the software.

In August 2000, SSA issued a new management plan to develop the 

agency’s electronic disability system. SSA expects this effort to move 

the agency toward a paperless disability claims process. The strategy 

consists of several key components, including (1) an electronic claims 

intake process for the field offices, (2) enhanced state disability 

determination service agencies’ claims processing systems, and (3) 

technology processes necessary to support the operation of Office of 

Hearing and Appeals. The components are to be linked to one another 

through the use of an electronic folder that is being designed to 

transmit data from one processing location to another and to serve as a 

data repository, storing documents that are keyed in, scanned, or 

faxed. SSA is currently implementing the automated intake process in 

its field offices. In addition, it recently expanded the capabilities 

of its Internet application process to include collecting information 

about the medical treatment and work history needed to process 

disability claims. Further, SSA has stepped up its schedule for 

implementing the electronic disability system from late in 2005 to 

January 2004. As SSA proceeds with this new system, it is imperative 

that the agency effectively identify, track, and manage the costs, 

benefits, schedule, and risks associated with the system’s full 

development and implementation. Moreover, SSA must ensure that it has 

the right mix of skills and capabilities to support this initiative and 

that desired end results are achieved.

SSA is at a crossroads in its efforts to redesign and improve its 

disability claims process. Since its start in 1994, SSA’s redesign 

initiatives have yielded limited progress and often disappointing 

results. SSA’s new Commissioner has acknowledged the limited progress 

to date, has made the issue one of the agency’s priorities, and has 

taken the first steps to address this problem. However, as we testified 

in May 2002, it may be appropriate, given the agency’s past experience, 

for SSA to undertake a new and comprehensive analysis of the 

fundamental issues impeding progress.[Footnote 15] Such an analysis 

should include reassessing the root causes contributing to its problems 

and would encompass concerns raised by the Social Security Advisory 

Board,[Footnote 16] such as the fragmentation and structural problems 

in the agency’s disability determination process. The outcome of this 

analysis may, in some cases, require legislative changes.

SSA Needs to Better Position Itself for Future Service Delivery 


Among federal agencies, SSA has long been viewed as one of the leaders 

in service delivery. SSA considers service delivery as one of its top 

priorities, and its current performance plan includes specific goals 

and strategies to provide accurate, timely, and useful service to the 

public. However, three factors-(1) the expected increase in demand for 

services as baby boomers retire, (2) the concurrent retirement of a 

large part of its own workforce, and (3) changing customer 

expectations-could hamper SSA’s ability to provide high-quality service 

over the next decade and beyond. In response to these challenges, SSA 

has initiated several workforce activities based on its analysis of 

future retirements and has begun to envision what its future service 

delivery might be. In addition, it has begun to expand its electronic 

service delivery capabilities to meet changing customer expectations. 

However, without a service delivery plan that lays out a detailed 

blueprint for how service will be delivered in the future, SSA cannot 

ensure that it will effectively cope with its future service 

challenges. Further, as the agency transitions to electronic processes, 

it will be challenged to think strategically about its information 

technology (IT) investments and to ensure their effectiveness by 

linking them to service delivery goals and performance.

SSA Needs to Develop a Concrete Service Delivery Plan:

Demand for services will grow rapidly as the baby boom generation ages 

and enters the disability prone years and retirement soon after. By 

2010, SSA expects worker applications for DI to increase by as much as 

32 percent over 2000 levels. As we have observed earlier in this 

report, SSA already has trouble managing its disability determination 

workload; adding additional cases without rectifying serious case 

processing issues will only make things worse. Furthermore, by 2010, 

SSA projects that applications for retirement benefits will also 

increase dramaticallyæby 31 percent over the 2000 levels.

SSA’s ability to provide high-quality service delivery is also 

potentially weakened by challenges regarding its workforce. First, 

SSA’s workforce is aging, and SSA is predicting a retirement wave that 

will peak in the years 2007 through 2010, when it expects about 2,500 

employees to retire each year. By 2010, SSA projects that about 37 

percent of its almost 62,000 employees will retire. The percentage is 

higher for employees in SSA’s supervisory or managerial ranks. In 

particular, more than 70 percent of SSA’s upper-level managers and 

executives (GS-14, GS-15, and SES level) are expected to retire by 

2010. Second, SSA will need to increase staff skills to deal with 

changing customer expectations and needs. SSA’s staff will need to 

obtain and continually update the skills needed to use the most current 

technology available to serve the public in a more convenient, cost 

effective, and secure manner. At the same time, some aspects of SSA’s 

customer service workload will likely become more time consuming and 

labor intensive, owing primarily to the growing proportion of SSA’s 

non-English speaking customers and the rising number of disability 

cases involving mental impairments. Both situations result in more 

complex cases that require diverse staff skills.

SSA has a number of workforce initiatives under way to help it prepare 

for the future. For example, as required by law, SSA developed a 

workforce transition plan to lay out actions to help ensure that its 

workforce will be able to handle future service delivery challenges. In 

addition, recognizing that it will shortly be facing the prospect of 

increasing retirements, SSA conducted a study that predicts staff 

retirements and attrition each year, from 1999 to 2020, by major job 

position and agency component. SSA also began to take steps to fill its 

expected leadership gap. We have long stressed the importance of 

succession planning and formal programs to develop and train managers 

at all levels of SSA. As early as 1993, we recommended that SSA make 

succession planning a permanent aspect of its workforce planning and 

evaluate the adequacy of its investments in management training and 

development.[Footnote 17] SSA created three new leadership development 

programs to help prepare selected staff to assume mid-and top-level 

leadership positions at the agency. Overall, many of the efforts being 

made today are consistent with principles of human capital management, 

which is fundamental to the federal government’s ability to serve the 

American people.

However, SSA is taking these human capital measures in the absence of a 

concrete service delivery plan to help guide its investments. We also 

recommended in 1993 that SSA complete such a service delivery plan to 

ensure that its human capital and other key investments are put to the 

best use.[Footnote 18] In 1998, the agency took a first step by 

beginning a multiyear project to monitor and measure the needs, 

expectations, priorities, and satisfaction of customer groups, major 

stakeholders, and its workforce. In 2000, SSA completed a document that 

articulates how it envisions the agency functioning in the 

future.[Footnote 19] For example, SSA anticipates offering services in 

person, over the telephone, and via the Internet; according to this 

document, its telephonic and electronic access services will be 

equipped with sophisticated voice recognition and language translation 

features, and work will be accomplished through a paperless process. In 

its service vision document, SSA also states that it will rely heavily 

on a workforce with diverse and updated skills to accomplish its 

mission. Although this new vision represents a positive step for the 

agency toward acknowledging and preparing for future service delivery 

challenges, it is too broad and general to be useful in making specific 

information technology and workforce decisions. We have stressed that 

this document should be followed by a more detailed service delivery 

plan that spells out who will provide what type of services in the 

future, where these services will be made available, and the steps and 

timetables for accomplishing needed changes. SSA needs this plan to 

ensure that its investments in its workforce and technology are 

consistent with and fully support its future approach to service 


SSA Needs Effective Management of Information Technology to Support 

Future Service Delivery:

SSA has devoted considerable time and effort to identifying strategies 

to meet its goal of providing world-class service. For example, SSA has 

begun expanding its electronic service delivery capability--offering 

retirees the option of applying for benefits on-line as well as 

pursuing other on-line or Internet options to facilitate customer 

access to the agency’s information and services. Yet SSA’s overall 

success in meeting its service delivery challenge will depend on how 

effectively it manages its information technology initiatives and links 

its investments in this area to its service delivery goals and 

performance. Further, its actions and decisions must effectively 

address dual modes of service delivery--its traditional services via 

telephone, face-to-face, and mail contacts that are supported primarily 

by its mainframe computer operations, as well as a more interactive, 

on-line, Web based environment aimed at delivering more readily 

accessible services in response to changing customer expectations.

Our evaluation of SSA’s information technology policies, procedures, 

and practices in five key areas--investment management, enterprise 

architecture, software development and acquisition, human capital, and 

information security--found that the agency has many important 

information technology management policies and procedures in place. For 

instance, it has sound policies and procedures for software development 

that were consistent with best practices. However, SSA has not 

implemented its policies and procedures uniformly and has not 

established several key policies and procedures essential to ensuring 

that its information technology investments and human capital were 

effectively managed. We have noted weaknesses in each of the five key 

areas and recommended in this report 20 specific actions to improve 

SSA’s information technology management practices.[Footnote 20] SSA has 

agreed with all of the recommendations.

To illustrate, in making decisions on technology projects, SSA lacks 

key criteria and regular oversight for ensuring consistent investment 

management and decision-making practices. It also does not always 

consider costs, benefits, schedules, and risks when making project 

selections and as part of its ongoing management controls. Without such 

information, SSA cannot be assured that its investment proposals will 

provide the most cost-effective solutions and achieve measurable and 

specific program-related benefits, such as high-quality service 

delivered on time, within cost, and to the customer’s satisfaction. 

Further, given competing priorities and funding needs, SSA will need 

such information to make essential trade offs among its information 

technology investment proposals and set priorities that can maximize 

the potential for both short-and long-term improvements to services 

provided to the public.

As SSA pursues Internet and Web based applications to better serve its 

customers, it must ensure that these efforts are aligned with the 

agency’s information technology environment. A key element for 

achieving this is the successful implementation of an enterprise 

architecture, a blueprint for systematically and completely defining 

its current (baseline) and desired (target) environment. It is 

essential for developing and implementing information systems, and 

inserting emerging technologies that optimally support the agency’s 

mission. We found that SSA has not completed key elements of its 

enterprise architecture, including (1) finalizing its enterprise 

architecture framework, (2) updating and organizing its architectures 

and architecture definitions under the framework, and 

(3) reflecting its future service delivery vision and e-business goals.

As SSA moves forward in implementing electronic services and other 

technologies, its architecture will be critical to defining, managing, 

and enforcing adherence to the framework required to support its 

current and future information processing needs. In surveying 116 

agencies across the federal government, we found the use of enterprise 

architectures by many agencies to be a work in progress, with much left 

to be accomplished.[Footnote 21] Even within this group, SSA is at a 

relatively low level of maturity in enterprise architecture management.

SSA plans to rely extensively on software-intensive systems to help 

achieve processing efficiencies and improved customer service. SSA 

established new policies and procedures to enhance the quality of its 

software development. However, our evaluation found that SSA was not 

consistently applying them to its software development projects. In 

particular, SSA had not applied sound management and technical 

practices in developing the electronic disability system.[Footnote 22] 

The use of sound, disciplined software development processes is 

critical to ensuring that SSA delivers quality software on schedule and 

within established cost estimates and can meet its goal of developing a 

technological infrastructure to support its service delivery vision.

As SSA places increased emphasis on using information technology to 

support new ways of delivering service, it must also ensure that it 

effectively manages its human capital to anticipate, plan for, and 

support its requirements. However, SSA had not taken all of the 

necessary steps to ensure the adequacy of its future information 

technology workforce. For instance, although SSA had begun evaluating 

its short-and long-term information technology needs, it had not linked 

its information technology staffing needs to the competencies required 

to meet the agency’s mission goals. Doing so is necessary to ensure 

that SSA’s plans project workforce needs far enough in advance to allow 

adequate time for staff recruitment and hiring, skills refreshment and 

training, or outsourcing considerations. Shortcomings in SSA’s 

information technology human capital management could have serious 

ramifications as the agency moves toward making larger investments in 

new electronic service delivery options, such as Internet applications. 

Developing Internet applications represents a new era for SSA--one in 

which the agency must ensure that it has enough of the right people and 

skills to bring its electronic service delivery plan to fruition.

As SSA proceeds with the development and implementation of Internet and 

Web based initiatives, the need for a strong program to address threats 

to the security and integrity of its operations will grow. Without 

proper safeguards, these initiatives pose enormous risks that make it 

easier for individuals and groups with malicious intentions to intrude 

into inadequately protected systems and use such access to obtain 

sensitive information, commit fraud, disrupt operations, or launch 

attacks against other organizations’ sites.

SSA has made progress in addressing the information protection issues 

raised in prior years. Specifically, during fiscal year 2002, the 

agency issued final risk models to standardize platform security 

configurations, established monitoring tools for enforcement of 

standards, improved firewall controls, continued progress on a program 

to monitor and control system user access requirements, strengthened 

physical security controls in regional offices, and implemented 

procedures for enhanced review of security violations on the mainframe.

Nonetheless, weaknesses in SSA’s information security program continue 

to threaten its ability to effectively mitigate the risk of 

unauthorized access to, and disclosure of, sensitive information. A 

recent audit by an independent public accounting firm included 

recommendations that SSA continue to conduct periodic risk assessments 

to identify inherent vulnerabilities from emerging technologies, 

continue to implement risk models to achieve compliance with SSA 

standard platform security configuration settings, accelerate the 

program to ensure that sensitive systems are adequately addressed, 

ensure use of the new procedures for reviewing security violations on 

its mainframe, ensure that employees with access to sensitive SSA data 

and equipment are properly assessed to determine their eligibility for 

access, coordinate contingency planning among SSA components, and 

continue to enhance the overall security policy and improve physical 

security controls for the disability determination services sites.

The Need to Protect Personal Information Has Gained New Urgency:

SSA is responsible for issuing SSNs, which are used to record wage 

data, maintain earnings records, and efficiently administer its benefit 

programs.[Footnote 23] In addition, the SSN is also used by other 

government agencies as well as the private sector. This widespread use 

offers many benefits; however, combined with an increase in reports of 

identity theft, such use has raised public concern over how SSNs and 

other personal information are being used and protected. Moreover, the 

growth of the Internet, which can make personal information contained 

in electronic records more readily accessible to the general public, 

has heightened this concern. Finally, the terrorist attacks of 

September 11, 2001, and the indication that some of the terrorists 

fraudulently obtained SSNs have added new urgency to the need to assess 

how SSNs are issued and protected and how Social Security data are used 

in safeguarding national security.

Indeed, SSA has an important role to play in protecting the integrity 

of the SSN. Given the widespread use of SSNs, the agency is considering 

steps to ensure that it is taking all necessary precautions to prevent 

individuals who are not entitled to SSNs from obtaining them. This may 

require SSA to find a new balance between two competing goals: the need 

to take time to verify documents submitted during the application 

process and the desire to serve the applicant as quickly as possible.

Since the terrorist attacks, SSA has had to reexamine the process by 

which it enumerates-gives SSNs and cards to individuals-to ensure that 

only those with a legal right to SSNs receive them. Since November 2001 

SSA has been working with the Immigration and Naturalization Service 

and the Department of State to improve the verification of documents 

needed to assign SSNs to noncitizens and several initiatives are in the 

planning stages. In addition, SSA now verifies with the issuer of the 

record the birth records of all individuals over the age of 1 applying 

for original SSNs. Further, it no longer assigns SSNs for the sole 

purpose of obtaining driver’s licenses to individuals who are not 

authorized to work. The agency also provided refresher training to 

staff involved in assigning SSNs and imposed additional management 


Once SSA has issued an SSN, however, it has little control over how the 

number is used by other government agencies and the private sector. We 

recently reported that SSNs are widely used across multiple agencies 

and departments at all levels of government.[Footnote 24] They are used 

by agencies that deliver benefits and services to the public as a 

convenient and efficient means of managing records. More importantly, 

these agencies rely on SSNs when they share data with one another, for 

example, to make sure that only eligible individuals receive benefits 

and to collect any outstanding debt that individuals owe the 

government. Although these agencies are taking steps to safeguard the 

SSNs from improper disclosure, our work identified potential weaknesses 

in the security of information systems at all levels of government. In 

addition, SSNs are widely found in public records, that is, documents 

that are routinely made available to the public. Although some 

government agencies and courts are trying innovative approaches to 

prevent the SSN from appearing on public records, not all agencies 

maintaining public records have adopted these approaches. Moreover, 

increasing numbers of departments are considering placing or planning 

to place documents that may contain SSNs on the Internet, which would 

make these numbers much more readily available to others, raising the 

risk of their misuse.

We also found that SSNs are one of three personal identifiers most 

often sought by identity thieves, and that SSNs are often used to 

generate additional false documents, which can be used to set up false 

identities. What is harder to determine is a clear answer as to where 

identity thieves obtain the SSNs they misuse. Ultimately, the nation, 

with help from SSA, must grapple with the need to find the proper 

balance between the widespread and legitimate uses of personal 

information such as SSNs, by both government and the private sector, 

and the need to protect individual identity.

At the same time that SSA continues to protect SSNs and other personal 

information in its records, law enforcement needs for information have 

become ever more pressing. Law enforcement agencies at all levels of 

government seek assistance from SSA in obtaining information crucial to 

criminal investigations and, more recently, to protecting the homeland. 

The challenge SSA faces today in protecting the SSN will increasingly 

require a balance between providing information needed to protect 

against terrorism and other violent crimes and protecting individual 

privacy and preventing identity theft.

[End of section]

GAO Contacts:

Subject(s) covered in this report: Future service delivery; ; 

Protection and use of personal information such as social security 

numbers; Contact person: Barbara D. Bovbjerg, Director; Education, 

Workforce, and; Income Security Issues; (202) 512-7215;

Subject(s) covered in this report: Integrity of the Supplemental 

Security Income program; ; Disability programs; Contact person: Robert 

E. Robertson, Director; Education, Workforce, and; Income Security 

Issues; (202) 512-7215;

Subject(s) covered in this report: Information technology to support 

service delivery; Contact person: Joel C. Willemssen, Managing 

Director; Information Technology; (202) 512-6408;

[End of table]

[End of section]

Related GAO Products:

Performance and Accountability Series:

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: A Governmentwide 

Perspective. GAO-01-241. Washington, D.C.: January 2001.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Social Security 

Administration. GAO-01-261. Washington, D.C.: January 2001.

High-Risk Series: An Update. GAO-01-273. Washington, D.C.: January 


Continue to Strengthen the Integrity of the SSI Program:

Supplemental Security Income: Progress Made in Detecting and Recovering 

Overpayments, but Management Attention Should Continue. GAO-02-849. 

Washington, D.C.: September 16, 2002.

Supplemental Security Income: Status of Efforts to Improve Overpayment 

Detection and Recovery. GAO-02-962T. Washington, D.C.: July 25, 2002.

Supplemental Security Income: Additional Actions Needed to Reduce 

Program Vulnerability to Fraud and Abuse. GAO/HEHS-99-151. Washington, 

D.C.: September 15, 1999.

Supplemental Security Income: Long-Standing Issues Require More Active 

Management and Program Oversight. GAO/T-HEHS-99-51. Washington, D.C.: 

February 3, 1999.

Supplemental Security Income: Action Needed on Long-Standing Problems 

Affecting Program Integrity. GAO/HEHS-98-158. Washington, D.C.: 

September 14, 1998.

Improve Programs That Provide Support for Individuals with 


SSA and VA Disability Programs: Re-Examination of Disability Criteria 

Needed to Help Ensure Program Integrity. GAO-02-597. Washington, D.C.: 

August 9, 2002.

Social Security Disability: Disappointing Results From SSA’s Efforts to 

Improve the Disability Claims Process Warrant Immediate Attention. GAO-

02-322. Washington, D.C.: February 27, 2002.

SSA Disability: SGA Levels Appear to Affect the Work Behavior of 

Relatively Few Beneficiaries, but More Data Needed. GAO-02-224. 

Washington, D.C.: January 16, 2002.

SSA Disability: Other Programs May Provide Lessons for Improving 

Return-to-Work Efforts. GAO-01-153. Washington, D.C.: January 12, 2001.

Social Security Disability: SSA Has Had Mixed Success in Efforts to 

Improve Caseload Management. GAO/T-HEHS-00-22. Washington, D.C.: 

October 21, 1999.

SSA Disability Redesign: Actions Needed to Enhance Future Progress. 

GAO/HEHS-99-25. Washington, D.C.: March 12, 1999.

Social Security Disability Insurance: Multiple Factors Affect 

Beneficiaries’ Ability to Return to Work. GAO/HEHS-98-39. Washington, 

D.C.: January 12, 1998.

Social Security: Disability Programs Lag in Promoting Return to Work. 

GAO/HEHS-97-46. Washington, D.C.: March 17, 1997.

SSA Disability: SSA Return-to-Work Strategies From Other Systems May 

Improve Federal Programs. GAO-HEHS-96-133. Washington, D.C.: July 11, 


SSA Disability: Program Redesign Necessary to Encourage Return to Work. 

GAO/HEHS-96-62. Washington, D.C.: April 24, 1996.

Better Position SSA for Future Service Delivery Challenges, Including 

Information Technology:

Information Security: Additional Actions Needed to Fully Implement 

Reform Legislation. GAO-02-470T. Washington, D.C.: March 6, 2002.

Information Technology: Enterprise Architecture Use Across the Federal 

Government Can Be Improved. GAO-02-6. Washington, D.C.: February 19, 


Information Technology Management: Social Security Administration 

Practices Can Be Improved. GAO-01-961. Washington, D.C.: August 21, 


Information Security: Serious and Widespread Weaknesses Persist at 

Federal Agencies. GAO/AIMD-00-295. Washington, D.C.: September 6, 2000.

SSA Customer Service: Broad Service Delivery Plan Needed to Address 

Future Challenges. GAO/T-HEHS/AIMD-00-75. Washington, D.C.: February 

10, 2000.

Social Security Administration: Update on Year 2000 and Other Key 

Information Technology Initiatives. GAO/T-AIMD-99-259. Washington, 

D.C.: July 29, 1999.

Information Security: Serious Weaknesses Place Critical Federal 

Operations and Assets at Risk. GAO/AIMD-98-92. Washington, D.C.: 

September 23, 1998.

Strengthen Controls to Protect the Personal Information SSA Develops 

and Maintains:

Social Security Numbers: Government Benefits from SSN Use but Could 

Provide Better Safeguards. GAO-02-352. Washington, D.C.: May 31, 2002.

Social Security Numbers: SSNs Are Widely Used by Government and Could 

Be Better Protected. GAO-02-691T. Washington, D.C.: April 29, 2002.

Identity Theft: Prevalence and Cost Appear to be Growing. GAO-02-363. 

Washington, D.C.: March 1, 2002.

Social Security: Government and Commercial Use of the Social Security 

Number Is Widespread. GAO/HEHS-99-28. Washington, D.C.: February 16, 


[End of section]

Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series:

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: A Governmentwide 

Perspective. GAO-03-95.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of 

Agriculture. GAO-03-96.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Commerce. 


Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Defense. 


Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Education. 


Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Energy. 


Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Health and 

Human Services. GAO-03-101.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Homeland 

Security. GAO-03-102.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Housing 

and Urban Development. GAO-03-103.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of the 

Interior. GAO-03-104.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Justice. 


Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Labor. 


Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of State. 


Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of 

Transportation. GAO-03-108.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of the 

Treasury. GAO-03-109.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Veterans 

Affairs. GAO-03-110.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: U.S. Agency for 

International Development. GAO-03-111.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Environmental Protection 

Agency. GAO-03-112.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Federal Emergency 

Management Agency. GAO-03-113.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: National Aeronautics and 

Space Administration. GAO-03-114.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Office of Personnel 

Management. GAO-03-115.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Small Business 

Administration. GAO-03-116.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Social Security 

Administration. GAO-03-117.

Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: U.S. Postal Service. 


High-Risk Series: An Update. GAO-03-119.

High-Risk Series: Strategic Human Capital Management. GAO-03-120.

High-Risk Series: Protecting Information Systems Supporting the Federal 

Government and the Nation’s Critical Infrastructures. GAO-03-121.

High-Risk Series: Federal Real Property. GAO-03-122.


[1] U.S. General Accounting Office, Major Management Challenges and 

Program Risks: Social Security Administration, GAO-01-261 (Washington, 

D.C.: January 2001).

[2] U.S. General Accounting Office, Supplemental Security Income: 

Action Needed on Long-Standing Problems Affecting Program Integrity, 

GAO/HEHS-98-158 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 14, 1998).

[3] GAO/HEHS-98-158.

[4] U.S. General Accounting Office, Supplemental Security Income: 

Progress Made in Detecting and Recovering Overpayments, but Management 

Attention Should Continue, GAO-02-849 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 16, 


[5] U.S. General Accounting Office, SSA Disability: Return-to-Work 

Strategies From Other Systems May Improve Federal Programs, GAO/HEHS-

96-133 (Washington, D.C.: July 11, 1996).

[6] SSA awarded a 5-year cooperative agreement in 2000 to the 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to participate in its 

Disability Research Institute to plan and conduct a broad range of 

research that will develop disability policy information.

[7] U.S. General Accounting Office, SSA Disability: Program Redesign 

Necessary to Encourage Return to Work, GAO/HEHS-96-62 (Washington, 

D.C.: Apr. 24, 1996).

[8] GAO/HEHS-96-62.

[9] U.S. General Accounting Office, Observations on the Social Security 

Administration’s Fiscal Year 1999 Performance Report and Fiscal Year 

2001 Performance Plan, GAO/HEHS-00-126R (Washington, D.C.: June 30, 


[10] GAO/HEHS-96-133.

[11] U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Disability: 

Efforts to Improve Claims Process Have Fallen Short and Further Action 

is Needed, GAO-02-826T (Washington, D.C.: June 11, 2002).

[12] U.S. General Accounting Office, SSA Disability Redesign: Focus 

Needed on Initiatives Most Crucial to Reducing Costs and Time, GAO/

HEHS-97-20 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 20, 1996); SSA Disability Redesign: 

Actions Needed to Enhance Future Progress, GAO/HEHS-99-25 (Washington, 

D.C.: Mar. 12, 1999); and Social Security Disability: Disappointing 

Results From SSA’s Efforts to Improve the Disability Claims Process 

Warrant Immediate Attention, GAO-02-322 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 27, 


[13] GAO-02-322.

[14] GAO-02-322.

[15] U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Administration: 

Agency Must Position Itself Now to Meet Profound Challenges, GAO-02-

289T (Washington, D.C.: May 2, 2002).

[16] The Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 

1994 (P.L. 103-296) created a seven member bipartisan Advisory Board to 

advise the President, the Congress, and the Commissioner of Social 

Security on matters relating to the Social Security and SSI programs.

[17] U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security: Sustained Effort 

Needed to Improve Management and Prepare for the Future, GAO/HRD-94-22 

(Washington, D.C.: Oct. 27, 1993).

[18] GAO/HRD-94-22. Also, see GAO/T-HEHS-98-113 and GAO/HEHS-96-196. 

[19] This document was originally called “2010 Vision,” but was 

subsequently renamed “SSA’s Service Vision.”

[20] U.S. General Accounting Office, Information Technology Management: 

Social Security Administration Practices Can Be Improved, GAO-01-961 

(Washington, D.C.: Aug. 21, 2001).

[21] U.S. General Accounting Office, Information Technology: Enterprise 

Architecture Use Across the Federal Government Can Be Improved, GAO-02-

6 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 19, 2002).

[22] U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Administration: 

Update on Year 2000 and Other Key Information Technology Initiatives, 

GAO/T-AIMD-99-259 (Washington, D.C.: July 29, 1999).

[23] Since 1982, SSA has provided SSNs only to U.S. citizens, 

noncitizens authorized to work in the United States, and noncitizens 

with an approved nonwork reason for needing a number.

[24] U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Numbers: 

Government Benefits from SSN Use but Could Provide Better Safeguards, 

GAO-02-352 (Washington, D.C.: May 31, 2002).

GAO’s Mission:

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, 

exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional 

responsibilities and to help improve the performance and accountability 

of the federal government for the American people. GAO examines the use 

of public funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides 

analyses, recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make 

informed oversight, policy, and funding decisions. GAO’s commitment to 

good government is reflected in its core values of accountability, 

integrity, and reliability.

Obtaining Copies of GAO Reports and Testimony:

The fastest and easiest way to obtain copies of GAO documents at no 

cost is through the Internet. GAO’s Web site ( ) contains 

abstracts and full-text files of current reports and testimony and an 

expanding archive of older products. The Web site features a search 

engine to help you locate documents using key words and phrases. You 

can print these documents in their entirety, including charts and other 


Each day, GAO issues a list of newly released reports, testimony, and 

correspondence. GAO posts this list, known as “Today’s Reports,” on its 

Web site daily. The list contains links to the full-text document 

files. To have GAO e-mail this list to you every afternoon, go to and select “Subscribe to daily E-mail alert for newly 

released products” under the GAO Reports heading.

Order by Mail or Phone:

The first copy of each printed report is free. Additional copies are $2 

each. A check or money order should be made out to the Superintendent 

of Documents. GAO also accepts VISA and Mastercard. Orders for 100 or 

more copies mailed to a single address are discounted 25 percent. 

Orders should be sent to:

U.S. General Accounting Office

441 G Street NW,

Room LM Washington,

D.C. 20548:

To order by Phone: 	

	Voice: (202) 512-6000:

	TDD: (202) 512-2537:

	Fax: (202) 512-6061:

To Report Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in Federal Programs:


Web site: E-mail:

Automated answering system: (800) 424-5454 or (202) 512-7470:

Public Affairs:

Jeff Nelligan, managing director, (202) 512-4800 U.S.

General Accounting Office, 441 G Street NW, Room 7149 Washington, D.C.