Social Security Administration:

Information on Monitoring 800 Number Telephone Calls

HEHS-98-56R: Published: Dec 8, 1997. Publicly Released: Dec 8, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) teleservice monitoring operations, focusing on: (1) requirements by laws and regulations regarding proper telephone monitoring practices; (2) best practices in telephone monitoring; and (3) SSA's adherence to laws and regulations regarding proper telephone monitoring practices.

GAO noted that: (1) under the current law, SSA cannot monitor telephone calls unless its monitoring practices fall within a statutory exception; (2) one exception generally relates to the type of telephone equipment provided to a business and whether it is used for business purposes; (3) another exception requires the consent of at least one party to a conversation; (4) the Office of Inspector General did not determine whether SSA meets the first exception, but SSA believes it does; (5) also, the agency has taken steps to gain consent for telephone monitoring from the public and its employees; (6) SSA has negotiated agreements with the American Federation of Government Employees to more often notify employees when particular calls will be monitored and has added a recorded message to its 800 number to notify callers that their calls may be monitored; (7) SSA is also developing a new regulation that will formally notify its employees and the public of its monitoring practices; (8) regarding best practices, there are some similarities and differences between SSA's telephone monitoring practices and those identified in a key study of private companies considered to be the best in the 800 number business; (9) for example, the approach SSA supervisors use to monitor broader unit-level performance are similar to private sector best practices; (10) SSA's approach to quality monitoring differs from private industry's best practices; and (11) rather than immediate supervisors' performing the quality monitoring function, SSA maintains a separate unit to monitor for quality to ensure that benefits are paid accurately.

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