SSA Disability Redesign:

Focus Needed on Initiatives Most Crucial to Reducing Costs and Time

HEHS-97-20: Published: Dec 20, 1996. Publicly Released: Dec 20, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Social Security Administration's (SSA) efforts and progress in redesigning the disability determination claims process to reduce administrative costs and the time a claimant waits for a decision, focusing on: (1) SSA's vision and progress for redesigning the disability claims process; (2) issues related to the scope and complexity of the redesign; and (3) SSA's efforts to maintain stakeholder support.

GAO found that: (1) SSA is about one-third the way through the 6 years it estimated for redesigning the process, but has made relatively little progress in meeting its goals; (2) as of July 1996, SSA had not completed any initiative and testing had not begun for 14 of the 19 initiatives that contain testing requirements; (3) there have not been concrete and measurable accomplishments to keep the support of stakeholders; (4) a number of these initiatives have expanded in scope, thus increasing the time frames required to complete them; (5) increasing the time frames has several disadvantages, such as delaying implementation and heightening the risk of disruption from turnover in senior executives; (6) in addition to delays, SSA has also experienced turnover of senior executives since the beginning of the redesign; (7) although it is difficult to determine if this turnover has had a negative impact on the redesign thus far, continued turnover could result in possible loss of momentum or change of direction; (8) further complicating SSA's redesign efforts are difficulties in maintaining much needed stakeholder support; (9) some federal and state employees, as well as the unions that represent them, are concerned that redesign could mean the loss of jobs; (10) state employees are concerned about SSA's decision to pay federal employees at a higher rate than state employees for the same job; and (11) support from state management officials involved in the disability claims process has been declining steadily.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 1997, SSA issued an updated implementation plan for its disability process redesign. The agency identified a reduced number of initiatives upon which it plans to focus its resources and energies. The agency expects these initiatives to have the greatest impact on achieving its goals.

    Recommendation: To increase the likelihood that its reengineering project will succeed, given the major delays that SSA has experienced and the risk of further decline in stakeholder support, the Commissioner of Social Security should concentrate on accomplishing rapid results through initiatives of smaller, more manageable scope. This effort should include selecting those initiatives most crucial to producing significant, measurable reductions in claims-processing time and administrative costs, including those initiatives intended to achieve process unification, establishment of new decision-making positions, and enhancement of information systems support.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation has been superceded by more current recommendations made in HEHS-99-25 regarding SSA's approach to testing changes to its disability claims process.

    Recommendation: To increase the likelihood that its reengineering project will succeed, given the major delays that SSA has experienced and the risk of further decline in stakeholder support, the Commissioner of Social Security should concentrate on accomplishing rapid results through initiatives of smaller, more manageable scope. This effort should include combining those initiatives into an integrated process, testing that process at a few sites, and evaluating the results, before proceeding with full-scale implementation.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

 

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