Improving Operating and Staffing Practices Can Increase Productivity and Reduce Costs in SSA's Atlanta Region

GGD-85-85: Published: Sep 11, 1985. Publicly Released: Sep 11, 1985.

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As part of a series of reviews of productivity in government claims processing, GAO reviewed field office productivity in the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Atlanta Region.

GAO found that: (1) while the SSA Atlanta Region ranked at the top in productivity among SSA regions, productivity within the region varied widely because of inconsistent staffing and operating practices among field offices; (2) regional and area management staff did not allocate staff among field offices based on fluctuating work loads; (3) at a number of field offices, staffing levels remained unchanged over a period of several years, despite decreasing work loads; (4) some field offices supplemented staffing for reasons not related to work loads; and (5) SSA unjustifiably allows area directors to adjust staffing levels based on their perceptions of local conditions. GAO also found that: (1) field offices use a wide variety of processing practices, organization structures, and work load control practices despite similarity in work loads and services offered; (2) while some offices incorporate additional work steps and quality reviews into their processing procedures, these offices do not produce significantly better work than other offices; (3) those offices with lower productivity averaged 7-percent less staff devoted to positions directly related to claims processing; and (4) improved training for area and field office managers about efficient processing practices could stimulate significant productivity improvements in the region.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The region is conducting training for field managers to assist them in analyzing work load processing procedures and improve productivity.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security, Atlanta Region, should require area directors to provide field office managers with training in analytical tools which would enable them to improve operating practices.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration: Region IV, Atlanta, GA

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Regional office review teams are visiting highly productive offices to identify the best practices which could be widely disseminated and adopted.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security, Atlanta Region, should require area directors to establish procedures to identify the best operating practices used in the various field offices and disseminate information on the best operating practices to local field managers for their use, where appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration: Region IV, Atlanta, GA

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Regional management established a continuing program of evaluating operating practices. A private management consulting team was hired to assist in this endeavor. The methodology appears to parallel and enlarge the GAO work. The first round of evaluations have been published in a manual.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security, Atlanta Region, should require area directors to improve the regional staff allocation process by using the more productive offices as indicators of appropriate staff-to-work-load ratios.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration: Region IV, Atlanta, GA

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A regional executive-level position was established to oversee the implementation of productivity improvement initiatives.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security, Atlanta Region, should develop and implement a time-phased strategy to include designating responsibility at the regional level to ensure that productivity is improved.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration: Region IV, Atlanta, GA

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Productivity was included in the merit pay work plans of field managers and regional office line managers.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security, Atlanta Region, should hold area directors and field office managers accountable through their merit pay plans for improving field offices' operating practices and, as operating practices are improved, hold these managers accountable for staffing offices in accordance with their staff-to-work-load ratios.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration: Region IV, Atlanta, GA

 

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