Government Operations:

Major Management Challenges at SSA

GAO-03-995RNI: Published: Jul 31, 2003. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2003.

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Barbara D. Bovbjerg
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The Chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, House Committee on Ways and Means requested responses to some additional questions he had about GAO's recent testimony before the full Committee on waste, fraud and abuse in certain Social Security and welfare programs.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 prohibited fugitive felons and probation and parole violators from receiving benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Food Stamp, and housing assistance programs. In a September 2002 report, we found while there has been some progress in implementing the provisions in the welfare reform law, we also found that the law has not been implemented aggressively in all programs. GAO added modernizing federal disability programs to its high-risk list because the existing programs--including Social Security Administration's (SSA) Disability Insurance and SSI programs and the disability programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs--are grounded in outmoded concepts of disability. In particular, these programs are not in line with the current status of science, medicine, technology, law, and labor market conditions. Moreover, the programs have been growing and are poised to grow even more rapidly as more baby boomers reach their disability prone years. While SSA is taking some actions to address these problems in the short term, longer-term solutions are likely to require fundamental changes including legislative action. In prior work, GAO has noted a number of actions that SSA should take to modernize its disability programs. While GAO is not able to accurately estimate the overall extent of fraud in the disability programs at this time, it is initiating work that will examine overpayments and other potential problems in SSA's DI program. Data on erroneous payments were available under the TANF program's predecessor through the federally-required quality control system. That quality control system is no longer required under TANF. However, HHS is taking steps to develop an error rate for the program as requested by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). GAO is beginning a study on state and federal internal controls in place to address fraud and improper payments for Administration for Children and Families (ACF) programs. While GAO has not done any work on fraud related to the Child Care and Development Block Grant, it is considering addressing the issue as part of the ongoing study--noted above--on state and federal controls to address improper payments in ACF programs. OMB has requested HHS to develop information on erroneous payments for the Child Care and Development Fund, along with the TANF program and other ACF programs. In response, HHS has said it is considering how to develop an error rate for this program in a cost-efficient manner. SSA is developing a photographic identification pilot as part of its broader efforts to improve SSI program integrity. However, GAO is not currently aware of similar steps being taken in other benefit programs. SSA began using tax refund offsets in 1998 to recover outstanding debt in the SSI program. At the end of calendar year 2001, this initiative has yielded $221 million in additional overpayment recoveries for the agency. While GAO has not specifically recommended that the tax refund offset be used in other programs such as welfare or unemployment insurance, its work suggests that administrative offsets can be a useful tool to recover overpayments and strengthen the integrity of benefit programs.

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