Social Security Administration:

Fugitive Felon Program Could Benefit from Better Use of Technology

GAO-02-346: Published: Sep 6, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 8, 2002.

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The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), is the largest cash assistance program in the United States. For fiscal year 2002, SSA expects to pay SSI benefits totaling $31.5 billion to more than six million financially needy individuals who are aged, blind, or disabled. Since becoming operational in August 1996, the fugitive felon program has provided a valuable service by helping SSA to identify and prevent payments to ineligible SSI benefits recipients and helping law enforcement agencies to locate and and apprehend fugitive felons. Nevertheless, several technological and other barriers are contributing to inefficiencies in the program's operations. Certain information systems that SSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) use in processing matched data are not interoperable or compatible, thus also hindering the efficient exchange of warrant information. Contributing to these inefficiencies is that no one office within SSA has been designated to oversee and manage the overall performance of the fugitive felon program. Consequently, no program officials could explain the overall data sharing and matching process. Largely because of the SSA's and states' limited uses of information technology to support the fugitive felon program, many state law enforcement agencies have been reluctant to enter into data-matching agreements with SSA. According to SSA and law enforcement officials, among the factors that made some states reluctant to enter into the agreements were that some states did not maintain central repositories of warrant information and SSA's guidance for formatting, downloading, and manually transmitting the information created additional resource requirements that some states were unable to meet. The enactment of legislation prohibiting OASI and DI payments to fugitive felons could increase SSA's recovery of improperly paid benefits and prevent more potentially dangerous fugitives from fleeing justice. However, the additional matches of warrant records against OASI and DI recipient files could substantially increase the data processing workloads of both SSA and the FBI's Information Technology Center. SSA may be able to improve the fugitive felon program's operational efficiency and outcomes by exploring its existing telecommunications connectivity supporting other federal, state, and local programs. SSA currently has direct, on-line connections with every state that transmits and receives data supporting various other programs, including its program to suspend SSI, OASI, and DI benefits to prisoners.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with this recommendation, in part, but indicated that action on this recommendation was beyond its purview. SSA closed this recommendation in March 2003, stating that no actions would be taken to address the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should direct the program management office and manager to continue to examine and propose options for using technology to automate the currently manual functions involved in exchanging fugitive warrant information with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and in completing the verifications and referral of this information, including assessing alternatives to using data-matching agreements to obtain fugitive warrant information, and determining whether on-line connections with state and local law enforcement agencies and/or direct telecommunications connections with the FBI's National Crime Information Center database could offer viable and more efficient means of sharing warrant information.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Social Security Administration disagreed with this recommendation in its agency comments dated August 2002, and closed this recommendation in March 2003, stating that no actions would be taken on the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should direct the program management office and manager to identify and prioritize, based on its assessment, those fugitive felon processes that need improvement and develop a strategy for resolving technological and administrative barriers preventing their efficient operation.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Social Security Administration disagreed with this recommendation in its agency comments dated August 2002, and closed this recommendation in March 2003, stating that no actions would be taken on the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should direct the program management office and manager to conduct a detailed assessment of the fugitive felon program's current operations and performance, including a complete analysis of the organizations, processes, information flows, and time frames required to administer the program, a full accounting of the program's costs, estimated and actual program benefits, and current workload requirements.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) disagreed with this recommendation in its agency comments dated August 2002, and closed this recommendation in March 2003, stating that no actions would be taken on the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the fugitive felon program's operational efficiency and ensure sustained, long-term success in identifying fugitive SSI beneficiaries, the Commissioner of Social Security should designate a program management office and program manager to direct, monitor, and control the program's activities and progress.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In its agency comments dated August 2002, the Social Security Administration (SSA) stated that it had already completed the task that we recommended. Specifically, the agency stated that, in January 2001, it had conducted an analysis to assess the impact of the OASI and DI legislation on fugitive felon program operations, and had determined that there would be no technological impact issues associated with implementing this new legislation. However, our review of documentation supporting the agency's position determined that SSA's analysis had assessed the workload impact resulting from the OASI and DI legislation, but that the agency needed to conduct additional assessment to determine whether and what information systems support would be required to meet the broader mission. Nonetheless, SSA closed this recommendation in March 2003, stating that it planned no further actions.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should direct the program management office and manager to assess the anticipated technological impact on fugitive felon operations from the implementation of provisions prohibiting OASI and DI benefits payments to fugitives, including identifying the additional information systems support that would be needed to conduct and process leads resulting from computer matches of warrant information against these benefits recipients' files.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

 

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