Social Security's Field Office Management Can Be Improved and Millions Can Be Saved Annually Through Increased Productivity

HRD-82-47: Published: Mar 19, 1982. Publicly Released: Mar 19, 1982.

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GAO reviewed selected Social Security Administration (SSA) field office operations.

GAO found that SSA can save millions of dollars annually by improving the management and productivity of its field offices. Gains can be achieved by: (1) establishing field office productivity goals and increasing management focus on potential productivity gains; (2) improving field office management information systems to improve the management and monitoring of goals; (3) improving headquarters communications to field offices, including improving the design and control of forms used by field offices; and (4) increasing automation of field office clerical tasks, program eligibility decisions, and benefit computations. SSA measures three dimensions of field office work: processing time, quality, and productivity. Some of the improvements in processing time and quality are attributable to improved computer support and new techniques. Management interest in productivity would achieve improvements in that area. Field office personnel need simple and clearly written operating instructions. GAO tested the readability of several instructions by applying a fog index, which approximates the number of years of education needed to read and understand SSA instructions. To understand the material required at least 15 years of education. However, GAO believes that the continuing problems that SSA has with instructions demonstrates a need for more field testing of and increased controls over the instructions. The lack of data and design standards for SSA forms result in inconsistencies between forms, which hamper productivity and lead to errors.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The SSA Data Resource Management System now incorporates facilities to establish common data standards. It uses a central data dictionary that defines common data elements and their usage. Forms now in use are being replaced with automated systems that will ensure standardization of common data elements nationwide.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should establish and enforce standards for common data. Handling common data in a consistent manner may reduce operational complexity, the number of forms currently in use, and the potential for errors.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA stated that there is one organization responsible. The assessment of ongoing impact of changes should be and now is the responsibility of those using the documents.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should establish in the central office a focal point accountable for the quality and utility of instructions and forms, and the focal point should be responsible for assessing the impact of changing instructions and forms on field office operations and personnel and for field testing instructions and forms.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Implementing automated management information systems at SSA is likely to be a long-term service, which GAO will address in its future work at SSA. Accordingly, there is no need to keep this recommendation open.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should develop and implement an automated field office work-load control and management information system for managing the work load and appraising individual employee performance.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA established productivity goals for its regional offices in fiscal year 1987.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should establish productivity goals for field operations along with accurate and reliable systems to monitor them.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Field Office Systems Enhancement Project, providing increased automation of field office work loads, was implemented in 2 district offices on a pilot status in May 1985. The project was expanded to 20 offices in January 1986.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should aggressively pursue opportunities to improve field office productivity through increased automation of field office tasks, and achievement of these opportunities should be an integral part of any SSA plan for resolving computer system problems.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

 

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