Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program:

Performance Measurement Would Strengthen Accountability and Enhance Awareness among Potential Claimants

GAO-10-5: Published: Oct 29, 2009. Publicly Released: Dec 1, 2009.

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In 1976, Congress established the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program, which is administered by the Department of Justice (Justice) and provides lump-sum payments to eligible public safety officers and their survivors after a line-of-duty death or permanent and total disability. The program also provides educational benefits to an eligible officer's spouse and children. GAO was asked to determine (1) the extent to which claimants receive PSOB program benefits and how long the claims process takes, (2) any issues raised by state and local agencies and others who assist claimants in seeking benefits, and (3) the extent to which the PSOB program follows recognized government standards and guidelines for effective program management. To address these objectives, we reviewed PSOB claims that were opened during fiscal years 2006 to 2008 for all three types of claims, reviewed relevant agency documents, and interviewed PSOB program officials, representatives of advocacy organizations, and state and local officials in five selected states.

GAO found that all education claims and over three-quarters of death claims opened in fiscal years 2006 through 2008 were closed and approved as of April 2009, while only about 31 percent of disability claims initiated during that period had determinations. The majority of disability claims remained pending because they took significantly longer to process than other claims--while education and death claims were generally processed in under a year, disability claims took between 17 and 26 months. GAO was unable to pinpoint which steps of the claims process were most time-consuming because claims files that GAO reviewed did not consistently document the date when claims passed through each step of the process. State and local officials GAO interviewed were generally concerned about their lack of awareness of certain PSOB program benefits, challenges with establishing eligibility, and the perceived long wait time for benefits. Specifically, officials were generally more aware of death than disability and education benefits. Officials also stated that submitting all the necessary paperwork to prove eligibility was difficult and time-consuming due, in part, to how long it took to obtain necessary documents from other organizations. Officials most frequently expressed concern about perceived long wait times for receiving benefits and also reported difficulties obtaining information about claims status. While it is taking steps to improve, the PSOB program does not follow government guidelines for performance monitoring. Specifically, according to Justice officials, the PSOB program has not set strategic goals and measures, monitored performance, or reported results because it is a payment program, and its budget is largely mandatory. However, other federal programs that provide benefits after work-related injury and illness have established performance measures, such as ones for claims-processing timeliness, and report their results publicly. Also, while the PSOB program has initiated several outreach and assistance efforts to claimants and state and local agencies in recent years, these efforts are not monitored, resulting in uncertainty as to whether they are adequate.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To strengthen PSOB's accountability, enhance potential claimants' and the general public's awareness about its benefits and program accomplishments, and ensure claimants and those who assist them receive the most efficient, consistent, and effective service, the Assistant Attorney General of OJP should direct the Director of Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to establish appropriate performance goals and measures related to the program's key activities, such as claims processing, outreach, and application assistance, based on reliable information about processing times, feedback from stakeholders and cost-effective approaches.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Office of the Assistant Attorney General

    Status: Open

    Comments: As of June 2011, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) established appropriate performance measures based on input from key national stakeholders (including firefighters and law enforcement) and posted them on its public website. These performance measures cover key program activities concerning death and disability claims, including claims processing, and outreach. However, BJA has not yet set numeric performance goals for its measures because it is still in the process of collecting reliable data for fiscal year 2011. As of FY13, GAO is awaiting confirmation that the agency established goals.

    Recommendation: To strengthen PSOB's accountability, enhance potential claimants' and the general public's awareness about its benefits and program accomplishments, and ensure claimants and those who assist them receive the most efficient, consistent, and effective service, the Assistant Attorney General of OJP should direct the Director of BJA to, once goals and measures have been established, collect and use reliable data to monitor and publicly report on how well key program activities are being performed, including how successfully PSOB's automated claims-processing system, Workflow, is addressing agency needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Office of the Assistant Attorney General

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Justice Assistance has begun publicly reporting on two performance measures: average time to receive basic required claims documents (including outreach to claimants) and average time to review and determine a claim. This report is available at the bureau's website: https://www.psob.gov/files/psobmeasures.pdf. We commend the bureau's actions to report on program performance but it would be helpful to put performance in proper context to determine how well performance goals are being met.

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